My Anniversary Giveaway of ‘THE LONGEST SHOT’

Two years ago today my first book published.

THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open was released a few weeks prior to the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, where 57 years earlier the unknown Fleck stunned the legend Hogan in one of sports’ greatest upsets. Sadly, Jack is gone now, passing away in March at the age of 92.

That book, which took me five years to write, sell and publish, was a major impetus for keeping my golf blog going. As I’ve said before, I never could have anticipated what was in store when I started ARMCHAIR GOLF BLOG in 2005 under the pen name “The Armchair Golfer.” I only intended to dabble and get a feel for blogging.

The publication and reception of THE LONGEST SHOT provided many personal highlights. I’ll name a few. Favorable reviews, including the New York Times. Media opportunities, including the Golf Channel during U.S. Open week, an exclusive excerpt at Golf.com and a Q&A with Geoff Shackelford. Later that year Booklist named THE LONGEST SHOT as one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2012.

The peak moment, though, was likely when Jack Fleck, along with Billy Casper, was interviewed by NBC’s Bob Costas prior to the final round coverage of the 2012 U.S. Open. (See video at ARMCHAIR GOLF BLOG.)

I anticipated the interview because an assistant to Costas met with me at Olympic to talk about Jack. He and Costas wanted to know about the oldest living U.S. Open champion, and solicited my ideas for questions that would evoke good responses during the interview segment.

However, I had no idea that Costas would hold up my book on national television. That doesn’t usually happen. I was shocked and thrilled. Wow! I couldn’t believe it. I remember thinking at the time, ‘If nothing else happens, it’s been a great run.’

Giveaway

To be included in a random drawing for an autographed copy of THE LONGEST SHOT, please email your name and address to armchairgolfer@gmail.com.

P.S. Of course, only one of you will win, so please consider picking up a copy for yourself or a family member or a friend. Hey, Father’s Day is just around the corner.

P.P.S. I’m excited to tell you there’s another one on the way later this year. More on that topic soon.

Advertisements

So Long Jack Fleck

JackFleckMay09
Jack and me in 2009.

Jack Fleck died on Friday at the age of 92. My condolences to his wife, Carmen, his son, Craig, other family and his friends. I hadn’t spoken to Jack in a couple of months. He was in good spirits the last time we talked.

Jack was born in Bettendorf, Iowa, on November 7, 1921. He became a golf professional at the age of 17. He served in the Navy during World War II and was part of the Normandy invasion.

Jack beat his idol Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff to win the 1955 U.S. Open, one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports. When Hogan died in 1997, Jack decided not to attend the funeral because he didn’t want his presence to detract in any way from the remembrance of his idol.

I met Jack in March of 2007 and he opened up to me and allowed me to tell his story (THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open). I was very fortunate to know him. Thank you for letting me tell your story, Jack.

Why I Wrote a Book About Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan and the 1955 U.S. Open

(Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a four-part series about how I got to know Jack Fleck and wrote THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.)

WHAT SURPRISED ME EARLY ON ABOUT Jack Fleck beating Ben Hogan at the 1955 U.S. Open, one of sports’ greatest upsets, is that it seemed to be missing from the pantheon of golf and sports literature. There was no book, save the one Jack Fleck himself penned, a 2002 self-published memoir.

The fullest treatment of Fleck’s upset in a book from a major publisher was contained in Ben Hogan: An American Life, a 2004 biography by James Dodson. Dodson devotes a chapter to Hogan’s crushing loss to Fleck, one of the major disappointments of Hogan’s career, for it denied the Texas pro a record fifth U.S. Open title. (To this day, Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Willie Anderson are tied in the record books with four U.S. Open wins. Tiger Woods has won three.)

My book, THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open, fills this surprising gap, tracing the implausible journey of the unheralded Iowa pro who, in his first of two make-or-break seasons, out-dueled the mighty Hogan on golf’s biggest stage. Readers will get a complete picture of Jack Fleck, everyman’s underdog, including his early struggles, personal demons and the surprising run-up to the titanic upset that sent shock waves through the sports world. Hogan had won four of the previous six U.S. Opens he had entered. Fleck’s best finish in two U.S. Opens was a tie for 52nd at Oakmont in 1953. Hogan wanted to make history. Fleck simply wanted to make it on the PGA Tour.

Continue reading “Why I Wrote a Book About Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan and the 1955 U.S. Open”

Uncovering Jack Fleck and an Upset for the Ages

(Editor’s note: Part 3 of an ongoing series about how I got to know Jack Fleck and wrote THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open. Read Part 1 and Part 2.)

WHO WAS JACK FLECK? NOT THE CARICATURE of an underdog or answer to a sports trivia question, but rather the three-dimensional struggling golf pro from the Hawkeye state. And how in the world did Fleck take down Ben Hogan, a stoic, steel-willed man who thoroughly dominated major championship golf for a decade and is considered one of the all-time greats along with Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods?

These were the questions I began to ponder after I received an early 2007 email from a Hogan disciple named George McDowell. I had been writing my ARMCHAIR GOLF BLOG for more than a year, and would occasionally mention Hogan because of my acute interest in golf history. I found that my blog, which covered professional golf and was growing in popularity, was a magnet for like-minded golf enthusiasts, including Hogan fans who would surface to write a comment or send an email.

Continue reading “Uncovering Jack Fleck and an Upset for the Ages”

My First Encounter With Jack Fleck in Savannah

(Editor’s note: Part 2 of an ongoing series about how I got to know Jack Fleck and wrote THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open. Read Part 1.

Dressed in a sport coat, golf shirt, dark slacks and polished loafers—normal attire for a 1950s era tour golf professional—Jack Fleck strolls into the sunlit concourse of the Savannah Hilton Head International Airport. A shade over six feet tall and still at his slender playing weight of 164 lbs., the 85-year-old Fleck does not look like a “giant killer.” But, as the saying goes, looks can be deceiving.

It’s April 2007, and I’ve driven 400 miles to coastal Georgia to meet “Jack the Giant Killer,” the title of a feature article penned by famed golf writer Herbert Warren Wind in the June 27, 1955, issue of Sports Illustrated. Jack earned the ominous title by defeating Ben Hogan, the Tiger Woods of his era, in the 1955 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. It was a classic David vs. Goliath battle: Fleck, the unknown municipal pro from Davenport, Iowa, pitted against the legendary Hogan, the four-time U.S. Open champion and nine-time major winner who had miraculously returned to golf after a near-fatal auto accident in one of sports’ greatest comebacks.

Like many golf fans, I knew that Fleck beat Hogan long before my six-hour car trip down I-95 to Savannah. It was a part of golf and sports lore, for Jack Fleck had been a poster boy for sports underdogs ever since he toppled the great Hogan at Olympic in a dramatic 18-hole playoff on June 19, 1955.

Continue reading “My First Encounter With Jack Fleck in Savannah”

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.

Continue reading “Reliving Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan and the 1955 U.S. Open”