Ben Hogan, Jack Fleck And The Greatest Upset Of All Time

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2008

Anyone who is remotely interested in the game of golf has surely heard of Ben Hogan.  However, few have heard the name ‘Jack Fleck’ or the story behind his improbable playoff win at the 1955 US Open which is regarded by many as the greatest upset in the history of the game.


Jack Fleck was an assistant driving range pro from Davenport, Iowa who served in the Navy and took part in the D-Day invasion from a ship off Utah Beach.


Immediately following his discharge from the Navy, Fleck began trying to qualify for PGA Tour events around the country while also making some extra money back at his old job on the driving range.


In 1955, Fleck finally qualified for full-time status on the PGA Tour and began playing in as many events as he could.


Within six months of qualifying for the tour, this assistant driving range pro from Iowa would pull off the greatest upset in the history of the game and arguably the greatest upset in the history of sports.


Fleck grew up idolizing Ben Hogan and as a young boy he relentlessly tried to imitate Hogan’s flawless swing. 


When Fleck first joined the PGA Tour, he would follow Hogan during his practice rounds trying to learn everything and anything he could about Hogan’s process of developing his renowned plans for meticulously managing a golf course down to the inch. 


Fleck was also an admirer of the golf clubs Hogan created and decided to approach Hogan a few months prior to the Open and ask him for a set of clubs, a request many pros believed to be insane; Hogan had a well-known reputation of being a ruthless competitor who would be highly unlikely to build a set of clubs for the an opponent.


Maybe it was Fleck’s innocent farm-boy persona, or maybe Hogan was just beginning to ease up during the later stages of his career. Whatever the reason, Hogan enthusiastically greeted Fleck in person at his golf club manufacturing plant in Texas and agreed to build him a full set of clubs free of charge.


By 1955, Hogan was five years removed from his near fatal car accident and was beginning to near the end of his career.  However, heading into the 1955 US Open, Hogan would still have been considered the clear favorite to win the event.


Both Hogan and Fleck arrived at the Olympic Club in San Francisco on the Saturday prior to start of the Open. 


When Fleck arrived in the city by the bay to play his first practice round, he was astonished to see Hogan walking towards him with two brand new Ben Hogan wedges that he had created personally for Fleck in addition to the set of clubs Hogan had already given him.


“It was just unbelievable, the kindness he continued to show me. In a sense it's a shame that I used those very clubs to defeat him.” Fleck would later say of this uncharacteristically kind gesture from Hogan.


Back in 1955, the US Open consisted of one round on Thursday, one round on Friday and a 36-hole finish on Saturday.


Heading into Saturday’s 36-hole finale, Fleck was in contention and, like everyone else in the field, was chasing down Hogan.


While shaving prior to his Saturday morning tee-time, Fleck experienced something that to this day he attributes to a miracle from God.


“On Saturday morning before the final rounds, while I was shaving and listening to Mario Lanza singing 'I'll Walk With God,' a voice came out of the mirror and said very audibly, 'Jack, you are going to win the Open.'"


"I was startled and looked around the room. While I was looking away, the voice came out of the mirror again: 'Jack, you are going to win the Open!' I got goose bumps, and it was as if electricity was going through my body. It was all I could do to calm down and do my stretching and breathing exercises.”


After a strong front nine in his final round, Fleck approached the 15th hole needing to birdie two out of his last four holes to tie Hogan and force an 18-hole playoff on Sunday.


Fleck birdied the 15th, pared the 16th and 17th, and approached the 18th hole needing a birdie to tie Hogan.


“I hit my Ben Hogan 3-wood off the tee at No. 18. I had only a 7-iron left from the fringe rough, and after hitting that to six or seven feet I took very little time over the putt. I had that good feeling in my hands and put it in the middle of the hole for the tie,” described Fleck many years later.


Whether you believe Flecks’ description of the events that took place in his hotel room prior to the 36-hole finale on Saturday or not, there is one thing cannot be disputed: the miraculous Saturday afternoon charge this former assistant driving range pro from rural Iowa made on the great Ben Hogan.


Fleck and Hogan would meet on Sunday afternoon for an 18-hole playoff.


After his miraculous finish on Saturday afternoon, Fleck began to believe the voice he had heard was indeed a greater force guiding him to victory, which put him eerily at ease prior to the most important round of golf he would ever play.


Hogan, on the other hand was still suffering from the affects of his car accident in the form of sore, fragile legs that he would need to soak for an hour and then spend another hour wrapping before each round just to allow him to physically walk 18 holes of golf.


So, needless to say, an additional 18-hole playoff following the 36-holes he had just played was not at all what Hogan was hoping for.


On Sunday, Fleck calmly went about his business and carded an astounding 69 on a brutally tough golf course which was good enough to beat out Hogan by three strokes.   


Hogan’s score of 72 would have been considered a superb round of golf under the circumstances, yet it just was not enough to beat this assistant driving range pro that shot the round of his life that Sunday afternoon. 


Maybe there was a greater force at work or maybe it was simply a combination of Hogan’s weary legs and Fleck happening to catch fire at the exact right time; but either way, Fleck’s playoff round score of 69 under the most intense pressure of his career was nothing short of a miracle.


Fleck would go on to win just two more small PGA Tour events during the course of his career, while Hogan, as we all know, would finish his career as one of the greatest golfer of all time.


Hogan and Fleck remained friends and continued to reminisce about the ’55 Open throughout the remainder of Hogan’s life. 


To this day, Fleck has never strayed from his story about the voice he heard prior to his Saturday rounds. He continues to believe that there was some kind of greater force at work allowing him to pull off the greatest upset of all-time.


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