FAR HILLS, N.J. – Jack Fleck, the winner of the 1955 U.S. Open Championship in a playoff over Ben Hogan, died Friday in Fort Smith, Ark., of natural causes. He was 92 years old. Fleck is survived by his wife, Carmen, and his son, Craig.
“Jack Fleck’s U.S. Open victory at The Olympic Club was one of the most significant in the history of the championship,” said USGA President Thomas J. O’Toole Jr. “We were delighted to welcome him back to Olympic for the 2012 U.S. Open and also to see him last year at Merion Golf Club. All of us at the USGA are saddened by this loss and deeply appreciative of Jack’s contributions to the game.”
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.