Golf Writer Andy Reistetter is fortunate to have met most of the world's top professional golfers while on tour the last four years. Last year at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach he spent the afternoon with 1955 U.S. Open champion Jack Fleck and his longtime buddy Ed Tallach.
Fleck is the oldest living major champion and one heck of an interesting person. Take yourself back to the Ben Hogan era and meet Jack Fleck in the third article of Reistetter's exclusive "Meet Golfers the Write Way" series.
So you think Tiger Woods beating Rocco Mediate in a Monday playoff at Torrey Pines in the 2008 U.S. Open was big?
Go back to a different time in golf and think about what it must have been like for little known Jack Fleck to defeat the hero of golf, Ben Hogan, in a similar Monday playoff at Olympic Club in 1955.
Now nearly 90 years old with 70 years experience as a golf professional, Jack is alive and kicking in Fort Smith, Arkansas. In addition to sharing his love for the game he continues to share his insights into playing golf through his books and website:
Who inspired him to do this?
Self-help advocate, author and lecturer Wayne Dyer inspired him.
"Don't die with the music still in you," is what Jack whispered in my ear on that glorious day at Pebble Beach.
"I am at this age now and that is why I am..."
Jack was there for the 55th anniversary of his famous win over Hogan.
I hope to see him again when the U.S. Open returns to Northern California in 2012 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
It wasn't "one fleck and you're gone" with this man, the Jack of all Flecks.
Fleck won twice more on tour and then two times on the Senior Tour.
When Arnold Palmer shot that final round 65 to beat Nicklaus by one stroke at Cherry Hills in the 1960 U.S. Open, he beat Jack Fleck by two strokes.
In fact, he played and beat Palmer by three strokes for the first 36 holes and told Palmer "to relax" a bit going into the final 36 holes on Saturday.
That's golf and life, I guess. You compete, you want to win but you also want to win and beat your opponents when they are playing their best golf, so helping the enemy is considered par for the course in golf.
Fleck told me an interesting story whereby Ben Hogan actually helped him beat Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open.
At the St. Petersburg Open earlier that year in Florida, Fleck came across Skip Alexander, the club pro with possibly the first set of Hogan irons.
The clubs didn't match one of Skip's customers.
Fleck asked if he could see them and even offered to pay the postage for the return trip.
Fleck loved the clubs and asked Skip if Hogan would be interested in making some clubs for him.
The response was "don't bother Hogan," but he did anyways.
He wrote Hogan a letter and the response came back for Fleck to "send in his specs."
Then Hogan made two wedges for Fleck—one called an Equalizer Wedge and the other a Sand Iron.
Hogan personally delivered the two wedges to Fleck on Saturday before the practice rounds at Olympic Club.
So Hogan actually equipped his competitor with the latest and greatest technology at the time, and Fleck beat Hogan with Hogan's own wedges.
Fleck became the first player to play Hogan's clubs.
Their relationship was based, as so many in golf are, on trust, friendship and a handshake—there was no contract.
Fleck takes care of himself practicing or playing golf every day.
He came to the game as a caddie in Iowa at Davenport CC when he heard you could make a little more money—way back when he was 15 years old.
More money back then was 45 cents per round.
He volunteered to pick up balls, and every once in a while the pro Tom Cunningham would give him a dollar.
Fleck declared himself "a pro" the day he graduated high school in 1939.
He served his country in the Navy in WWII.
He saved a few bucks and hitchhiked south to the winter tour, heading to San Antonio to escape the cold of winter.
Once married, his wife agreed he would go and play for two years "to get it out of his system."
Something stayed within young Jack Fleck as he beat Hogan in the U.S. Open.
Fleck would tell you it was faith and fate that would help him reach the pinnacle of the golfing world.
An elderly gentleman came into the pro shop early one morning. Fleck was lacquering his woods and re-gripping his clubs.
The gentleman said "I see you qualified for Open, are shooting good on tour, but haven't come close to winning."
"Do you pray?"
"No," Fleck replied, "not for winning golf tournaments, I only pray in times of sickness or illness for family and friends."
The man walked around the shop for a few minutes and came back to Fleck with some wise words.
"I want you to pray for the power and the strength to compete."
Fleck did and while shaving the morning of the Saturday final 36 holes he heard a voice coming back to him out of the mirror.
"Jack, you are going to win the Open."
Jack looked around and again the same words came back to him.
Fleck would tell you "I don't know how it happened but it happened to me."
"I was calm through the whole thing (playing in the 1955 U.S. Open); the Lord had a part in winning that tournament."
Given the growth and prosperity in the game of golf in recent decades, Fleck would also tell you that "we were born too early."
But that is not true; his victories in life were greater than that 1955 U.S. Open win over Hogan.
One thing is for sure…Fleck has shared his music.
If you get the chance drop by his golf course in NW Arkansas that he calls "Li'l Bit of Heaven."
Sharing and hearing the music is a good thing in golf and life.
Other articles in the "Meet Golfers the Write Way" series:
1. Robyn James, "The Only Women in the Field"
2. Annika Sorenstam
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a Research and Broadcast Assistant for the major golf broadcast companies. He spends time on all four major American golf tours- the PGA TOUR, Champions, Nationwide and LPGA Tours.
Reistetter resides within two miles of the PGA TOUR headquarters and home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.
A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame and THE PLAYERS while pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it. He can be reached through his website www.MrHickoryGolf.net or by e-mailing him at AndyReistetter@gmail.com