Tribute to Legendary Golfer Jack Fleck

CLICK here for the Jack Fleck posting during the “Journey to Olympic Golf.”

With Jack Fleck and his Olympic Gold Golf Medal.

With Jack Fleck and his Olympic Gold Golf Medal.

Jack Fleck, a humble and joyous man first, legendary golfer second passed on Friday, March 21st, 2014 in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I was blessed to visit with him  and his wife Carmen in their home in October 2013. We also enjoyed time together touring around his beloved Hardscrabble CC. I presented him with a 1904 Olympic Golf Gold Medal at the time because he epitomizes the highest ideals of a human being and a sportsman. The above link and JTOG posting serves as a tribute to Mr. Fleck. My sympathy goes out to Carmen, Jack’s son Craig, all their family and friends, Ed & Jeremy and all who knew of and admired Mr. Jack Fleck.

CLICK here for TRIBUTE VIDEO, somehow I see Jack above in the wide open sky…

Below I have included tributes from Jack’s best friend Ed Tallach and Jeremy Moe, the Head Golf Professional at Hardscrabble CC, Jack’s club in Fort Smith, Arkansas. If you met Jack in the last seven years like I did, Ed Tallach was always by Jack’s side helping him plan, travel to and enjoy golfing events like the United States Open and The Masters. Likewise, Jack introduced me to Jeremy last October and as you can see in the posted video interview where Jack introduces Jeremy, theirs is a special friendship as well.

Dr. Seuss would tell us to not be sad because Jack has passed but be happy because Jack was here with us for 92 years. I am both with great gratitude for having the opportunity to get to know him a little bit these last few years. I am sure he has already recorded another ace in that wonderful golf course in the sky! So long Jack, we love you and miss you already!

Here is Ed Tallach’s tribute to Jack Fleck:

Jack and Ed frolicking on the practice putting green at the 2012 Masters right before the Wednesday par-3 contest.

Jack and Ed frolicking on the practice putting green at the 2012 Masters right before the Wednesday par-3 contest.

My having had Jack as a friend and an associate has been a great highlight of my life. I watched Jack play as a youngster and as an aspiring tournament golfer in the 1967 Illinois Open in the Chicago area where he was the pro at the prestigious Green Acres Country Club. He had taken club pro jobs at that stage of his career that would allow him to compete on the tour on a part time basis. I moved to Arkansas in 1970 and when I heard of his project of building a unique concept golf course in Magazine Arkansas, I had to make the trip from my home in Hot Springs to possibly have a chance to meet a U.S. Open Champion in person.  We began a relationship that evolved into us working and traveling together since that initial meeting. I  have had the distinct privilege of observing the admiration, respect and love the golf community has for this man nationwide and also in the British Isles.

Jack and Ed walking side-by-side at the 2008 U.S. Open when I first met them.

Jack and Ed walking side-by-side at the 2008 U.S. Open when I first met them.

Jack’s life differed from most celebrity athletes of his era in that his main interests were centered around health and fitness. He was a pioneer in this area.  Gary Player shared with me personally how Jack’s life was an inspiration to him. After Player watched him hit balls at The Legends tournament last year , he turned to me and said, “he is the bionic man”.  Jack Nicklaus, Player’s partner in the event, asked Jack for his drivers license on the practice tee to prove he was actually 91 years of age.  Lee Trevino who we have spent quality time with stated, “when I grow up, I want to be like Jack”.    Jack’s diet regime was very rigid  and when traveling very difficult to maintain and sometimes, if I may add, to the point of extreme frustration for me.  I can recall invitations to prominent celebrity functions that were turned down due to the menu. He was always quick to share with the wait staff and at times with restaurant management at some of the countrys finest restaurants the benefits of proper diet and how they could improve their offerings accordingly.    

Three Amigos- Ed, Jack & me at the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club where Jack and Billy Casper were honored.

Three Amigos- Ed, Jack & me at the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club where Jack and Billy Casper were honored.

Jack was best known for his historic 1955 US Open win over Ben Hogan as a club pro. His other regular tour and senior tour accomplishments are rarely mentioned.  He was the 1960 Phoenix Open champion and in that same year lost twice in sudden death playoffs. Arnold Palmer defeated him at the Insurance City Open in Hartford Conn. and George Bayer chipped in to defeat him on the first hole of the St. Petersburg Open in Florida.  But for you golf historians, the 1960 US Open at Cherry Hills in Denver is heralded as the historic changing of the guard so to speak with Arnold Palmer winning in a charge,a young Jack Nicklaus as an amateur finishing second and an aging Ben Hogan fading the last nine. The story should have included Jack who was third. This part of the story was disclosed to all in attendance at the 50th anniversary celebration of this historic tournament that Jack and I attended in 2010.  His last 18 holes on that afternoon 36 hole final included 5 three putts with 4 of them in the last nine,once from 3 feet. He basically handed Palmer the title and let the young Nicklaus slip by him for second.   Jack’s last regular tour win was the 1961 Bakersfield Open and he added another major win to his resume with the 1979 Senior PGA Championship.     

Jack may be waving good bye to us but is surely saying hello to the Lord in Heaven above...

Jack may be waving good bye to us but is surely saying hello to the Lord in Heaven above…

I will attest to Jack’s faith and love of the Lord.  He would emotionally share this with me on every trip we made and he had the opportunity through his celebrity status to do the same on national stages both via television and the news media.   His 1955 experience of the Lord speaking to him personally is legendary.    So, to his loving wife Carmen, son Craig, granddaughter Jennifer and his Hardscrabble family, I extend my sympathy for this great loss but with confidence that   Jack has been taken from us by the angels of the Lord to his well deserved place in heaven. 

ED TALLACH, 3/24/14


Here is Jeremy Moe’s tribute to Jack Fleck:

Jeremy Moe with Jack Fleck at Hardscrabble CC in October 2013.

Jeremy Moe with Jack Fleck at Hardscrabble CC in October 2013.

1955 US Open Champion, long time Fort Smith resident and Hardscrabble Member, Jack Fleck, has passed away at the age of 92.  Jack will be missed and we will always cherish the time we had with the legendary golfer.

Recently, in the summer of 2012, Jack was invited to attend the US Open and celebrate the anniversary of his win at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.  Jack made us proud as he handled the interviews with his usual grace and class, despite his declining health.
Less than a year ago, Jack made Sport Center’s Top 10 when he hit a 9 iron to a gimmie birdie during the Par 3 Tournament at the Masters.  That shot was replayed over and over at the club as all of us at Hardscrabble were so proud of our champion. 
Jack loved trees, especially the ones at Hardscrabble CC.

Jack loved trees, especially the ones at Hardscrabble CC.

Augusta contacted Jack a few months ago to invite him to hit the opening shot at this year’s Masters.  Jack was making plans to go, but his health just didn’t allow.

Jack often shared his story surrounding the 1955 US Open and would describe a visit he experienced from The Lord.  He was in his hotel bathroom, looking in the mirror, when clear as day, he heard The Lord say, “Jack, today you are going to win the US Open.”  Jack described that on that day, he hit the ball unbelievable distances and when the birdie putt on 18 dropped, Jack had tied Ben Hogan.  He would go on to beat Hogan the next day in a playoff.  Jack gave The Lord the credit for his win, and we know now he joins him in Heaven.
Farewell to our friend, Jack Fleck, and thank you for all the memories and special moments you helped create.



Here is the obituary of Jack Fleck by The Associated Press:

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — Jack Fleck, who produced one of golf’s greatest upsets by beating Ben Hogan in a playoff to win the 1955 U.S. Open, died Friday (3/21/14). He was 92.

He had been the oldest living U.S. Open champion.

The Edwards Funeral Home said Fleck died after a brief illness. Jim Edwards, the general manager, said he saw Fleck hitting golf balls as recently as six weeks ago.

Fleck returned to The Olympic Club two years ago when the U.S. Open celebrated its champions at the San Francisco course.

“I was fortunate to do the playing at that time and I’ve read a lot about it, that I out-Hoganed Hogan,” Fleck said in June 2012. “There was no time at all that I felt scared or under pressure coming down to the wire.”

Hogan appeared to be on his way to a record fifth U.S. Open title in 1955, closing with a 70 to finish at 7-over 287. He already was being congratulated by players who figured no one could catch him. But Fleck, an Iowa club pro in his first year on the PGA Tour, made two birdies over the final four holes for a 67 to force a playoff.

Fleck shot 69 in the playoff to beat Hogan by three shots.

“It was like someone who had never won a tour tournament beating Tiger Woods today,” Fleck said in a 2002 interview with The Associated Press.

Fleck won only two other events on the PGA Tour. He also won the Senior PGA Championship in 1979.

“Jack was a great player who will always be remembered for winning in legendary fashion, capturing one of the most memorable tournaments in the history of our game,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. “He embodied the ideals of a U.S. Open Champion for the remainder of his career. He also played a major role in the early years of the Champions Tour for which we are all indebted.”

But it was that U.S. Open title over Hogan that made him famous. Fleck said he was advised to save his energy when he arrived in San Francisco, but he loved Olympic so much that he wound up playing 45 holes of practice on Monday and Tuesday, and 36 holes on Wednesday.

He said in the 2002 interview that he knew he would win the U.S. Open after hearing a voice in his head while shaving Saturday morning before the 36-hole final. He was listening to a record of Mario Lanza singing, “I’ll Walk With God.”

“I heard a voice that said, ‘You are going to win the Open,'” Fleck said.

Born on Nov. 7, 1921, in Bettendorf, Iowa, Fleck learned the game as a caddie in Davenport, Iowa, where his father was a farmer. With borrowed clubs, he did well in caddie tournaments and, when he graduated from high school in 1939, decided to head south to Texas to play golf and escape Iowa’s harsh winters.

He served in the Navy during World War II and saw action during the Normandy invasion on British rocket ship off Utah Beach.

“Floating and circulating mines were sinking all kinds of American ships, crafts, gun boats, destroyers, etc., a real mess, with men in the water just trying to stay afloat in a sea of blood,” he wrote in his book, “The Jack Fleck Story.”

Fleck resumed his golf career in 1946 and scored his breakthrough victory in the 1955 U.S. Open. Fleck won only $6,000 for that major title — last year’s U.S. Open champion, Justin Rose, earned $1.44 million — and made money by doing exhibitions.

“There wasn’t as much money back then,” Fleck said in 2005. “Golf wasn’t quite that big yet. But I made two or three times more than Ed Furgol, who was the winner before. And I pushed it for two years. But it affected my golf. I should have won more.”

Fleck won his first senior title a year before the 50-and-over Champions Tour began. He later won the senior division of the Legends of Golf. He played the senior circuit regularly until 1991, when he devoted his time to teaching and running Li’l Bit of Heaven, a golf course he designed in Magazine, Ark.

Fleck is survived by his wife, Carmen; his son, Craig; a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter.