Reliving Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan and the 1955 U.S. Open

Neil Sagebiel and 1955 U.S. Open champion Jack Fleck.

Last Tuesday the United States Golf Association (USGA) published a story at its website about that amazing first U.S. Open played at San Francisco’s Olympic Club in 1955. (As you may know, the U.S. Open returns to the Olympic Club this June for the fifth time.) The USGA article made me realize that it’s time to tell you more about my somewhat accidental project. More on that in a moment, but first a quick review of one of the greatest upsets in sports history.

Jack Fleck, an unheralded club pro from Davenport, Iowa, beat Ben Hogan, a four-time U.S. Open champion and nine-time major winner, in a dramatic 18-hole playoff to win the 1955 U.S. Open. It was a stunning result, the greatest upset since amateur Francis Ouimet defeated British greats Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in an 18-hole playoff to win the 1913 U.S. Open. At the end of regulation play, Hogan was sitting in the players’ locker room—his record fifth Open all but assured—when the Iowan rallied with two birdies on the final four holes. Fleck sank a clutch birdie putt on the 18th green to tie Hogan and force a playoff the following day. The near-unanimous view was that Fleck had no chance in a head-to-head duel against the great Ben Hogan.

Jack Fleck is still around, still playing golf, and still talking about 1955. Now 90, Jack is the oldest living major champion. But I’ve known him since he was a younger man of 85.

It was about this time in 2007 that I picked up the phone and called Jack at his home in Fort Smith, Arkansas. A reader of my ARMCHAIR GOLF BLOG who shared my interest in golf history and Ben Hogan passed along the tip. You might want to talk to Jack Fleck, he suggested. That sounded interesting and fun to me. Little did I know that a first phone conversation would lead to many conversations, get-togethers at Champions Tour events where I caddied for Jack and ate in player dining rooms with other golf legends, and many more experiences that I could not have anticipated.

I got to know Jack and dug into his story. He got to know me. I wasn’t planning to write a book, but I realized that an incredible golf story still waiting to be fully told had arrived at my doorstep. I decided to give it a try. There have been plenty of twists and turns along the way, but I’ll save that for later.

Today, I wanted to begin by introducing (or reintroducing) this David-and-Goliath tale, which is now, at last, a book (see cover above and at right). Yes, I hope you’ll want to read it. Either way, I’ll be sharing more here in the weeks to come about the surprising adventure I’ve been on since that March day five years ago when I decided to call Jack Fleck.

TO BE CONTINUED.

Read an excerpt: Chapter 1 of THE LONGEST SHOT

Neil Sagebiel (aka The Armchair Golfer) is the author of THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open, which publishes on May 22 from St. Martin’s Press (Thomas Dunne Books). Learn more and pre-order at book page, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

(Photo: Courtesy of George McDowell)

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