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.

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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.

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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.

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