Fleck was born into a farming family on Nov. 7, 1921, in
Bettendorf, Iowa. He played on the golf team at Davenport (Iowa) High School,
and caddied at a local course in the mid-1930s. He turned professional in 1939,
and worked as an assistant golf professional at Des Moines Country Club.
Like many young men of the era, Fleck’s professional career
was put on hold by World War II. Fleck enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942, and he
was assigned to a British vessel that provided support at Utah Beach during the
D-Day invasion in 1944.
Fleck left the Navy in 1946, and within two weeks, he was
attempting to qualify for the PGA’s winter tour events. After toiling as a
journeyman for several years, the 33-year-old Fleck finally decided to give
full-time golf a try in 1955.
That decision immediately proved fruitful. At the 1955 U.S.
Open, the relatively unknown Fleck overcame a three-stroke deficit in the final
round at The Olympic Club in San Francisco to force a playoff with his idol,
Ben Hogan. Fleck displayed nerves of steel on the Lake Course, converting
birdies at two of the last four holes, including a 7-footer at No. 18, to tie
Hogan and force an 18-hole playoff.
The next day, Fleck led by one stroke heading to the final
hole. At the 18th tee, Hogan’s foot slipped and he drove the ball deep into the
left-side rough. He needed three shots to reach the fairway and converted a
25-foot double bogey. Fleck’s comfortable par provided him with a three-stroke
victory and one of the greatest upsets in golf history, denying Hogan the
opportunity to win a record fifth U.S. Open. Fleck won using clubs made by
Hogan’s equipment company, provided to him for free by Hogan himself.
That victory proved to be the pinnacle of Fleck’s career. He
captured the 1960 Phoenix Open Invitational, and a few months later, he tied
for third behind champion Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus at the 1960 U.S.
Open. His final PGA Tour win came at the 1961 Bakersfield Open. In an
interesting twist, all three of his victories came in extra holes. Fleck played
in 13 U.S. Opens, lastly in 1977. He also played in 12 U.S. Senior Opens, with
a best finish of seventh in 1985.
Fleck captured two senior victories prior to the institution
of the Champions Tour, including the 1979 PGA Seniors Championship. He retired
to his beloved Arkansas, where he opened the Lil’ Bit a Heaven Golf Club in
1992. The club closed in 2003. He authored three books: Be a Golf Tour
Champion, The Mental Secret to Better Golf and his autobiography, The
Jack Fleck Story.
A memorial service for Jack Fleck will be held on Tuesday,
March 25, at the First United Methodist Church of Fort Smith, Ark.