Jack Fleck (1921–2014)
Jack Donald Fleck had one of most improbable victories in golf history with his 1955 U.S. Open playoff victory over perennial golfing great Ben Hogan, an established star on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour who had previously won four U.S. Opens. Fleck was an unknown who had been playing regularly on the PGA Tour for less than a year when he recorded his historic victory. Fleck moved to Arkansas in 1988, opening the Lil’ Bit a Heaven Golf Club in 1992.
Jack Fleck was born on November 7, 1921, on the outskirts of Bettendorf, Iowa, one of five children of Louis and Elsie Fleck. He grew up in a poor family, working odd jobs around farms, with his salary going to his family. He started working as a caddie and eventually became an assistant golf professional in 1939. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy rather than being drafted into the service during World War II, and his ship provided fire support for the D-Day Invasion at Utah Beach. Fleck then embarked on his career as a golf touring professional weeks after his separation from the navy in 1946. He had limited success while playing on lower-level professional tours. He eventually committed to playing full time on the PGA Tour in 1955 and was little more than journeyman golfer heading into the 1955 U.S. Open.
Fleck exhibited stellar play at the 1955 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, California. Although it seemed that Hogan was assured of the victory, Fleck still had a chance. The task was simply to shoot two under par on the final four holes of regulation. He birdied the fifteenth hole, recorded pars at the sixteenth and seventeenth, and sank an eleven-foot putt for birdie at the eighteenth to force a playoff the next day. It was then Hogan who needed a birdie on the eighteenth hole to force a tie in the playoff. Hogan’s errant tee shot led to a double bogey on the eighteenth, and Fleck’s par resulted in a three-stroke victory for him.
This was the highlight of Fleck’s playing career, as he only seriously contended in one other major championship and recorded only two more victories on the PGA Tour. He won the 1960 Phoenix Open and the 1961 Bakersfield Open. He later won the 1979 PGA Seniors’ Championship and the 1995 Liberty Mutual Legends of Gold Tournament on what is now the Champions Tour.
Fleck’s impact on Arkansas came through a course he built in Magazine (Logan County), a small city of fewer than 1,000 that was reachable only by passing through the Ozark National Forest. Fleck moved to Arkansas in 1988, and the Lil’ Bit a Heaven Golf Club opened in 1992, with its main feature being double greens with separate pin placements. The course flooded a year after opening, and Fleck sold his 1955 U.S. Open medal to raise money to repair the course, believing that the proceeds from the medal were more useful to him than having the medal itself. Fleck not only owned the golf course, but he designed it and oversaw the daily operations. The course closed in 2003.
Fleck had one son, Craig Harold Fleck. Fleck made his home in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) with his wife, Carmen, whom he married in 2001. He was the author of three books: Be a Golf Tour Champion, The Mental Secret to Better Golf, and his autobiography, The Jack Fleck Story.
Fleck died on March 21, 2014. He is buried in Fort Smith National Cemetery. He was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.
For additional information:
Barkow, Al. The Upset: Jack Fleck’s Incredible Victory over Ben Hogan at the U.S. Open. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2012.
Crouse, Karen. “Finally Passing Test of Time.” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/sports/golf/jack-fleck-was-unlikely-winner-of-55-us-open.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2 (accessed February 7, 2022).
Fleck, Jack. The Jack Fleck Story. N.p.: J. C. Publishing Ltd., 2002.
Frisco, Frankie. “Fairway to Heaven.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 18, 2014, pp. 1C, 6C.
———. “Fleck, Who Denied Hogan 1955 U.S. Open Title, Dies.” Arkansas Democrat Gazette, March 22, 2014, pp. 1C, 7C.
Sagebiel, Neil. Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2012.
Sampson, Curt. Hogan. New York: Broadway Books, 1996.
Palmer, Arnold. A Golfer’s Life. New York: Ballantine Books, 1999.
Wind, Herbert Warren. The Story of American Golf. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975.
University of Tennessee
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