Davenport Man Was The First Iowan To Win A Major Golf Championship
After the John Deere Classic announced that Darius Rucker and Blake Shelton were coming to JDC 2023, I was looking at some other emails of mine and came across an interesting golf story that all ties back to the Quad Cities.
In the mid-20th century, a man who was born and raised in Bettendorf and went to school in Davenport once beat a golf legend and his own personal hero in a major golf tournament. No major as in a big tournament, I'm talking about a major. More specifically, the U.S. Open.
Jack Fleck isn't typically brought up when we talk about golf legends. Nicklaus, Woods, Palmer, Mickelson, Hogan, Hagen, Player, and Snead all come to mind. But Fleck, the first Iowan to win a major, beat one of these legends.
Jack Fleck Becomes First Iowan To Win A Major
Monday's Iowa Almanac with Jeff Stein talks about the 1955 U.S. Open golf championship that ended in a playoff. One of the competitors was the legendary Ben Hogan. The other was a virtual unknown from Iowa, Jack Fleck.
Born on November 7, 1921, Fleck's parents were poor farmers living in Bettendorf, Iowa who last their land in the 1920s. Jack played golf at Davenport High School and turned professional in 1939.
By 1955, Hogan had already won four U.S. Open titles and was the dominant player in the game. Jack Fleck was a journeyman, scratching out a living from a home base in Florida. With the encouragement of his wife Lynn, he committed himself to the pro tour for two years.
One of Fleck’s idols was Ben Hogan. He wore a cap like the one Hogan wore and was one of the first to use Hogan-brand golf clubs. In fact, Ben Hogan hand-delivered two clubs to Fleck just before the start of the U.S. Open, because they were not ready when Fleck got the rest of the set.
The Olympic Club course in San Francisco was suited to Fleck’s game, with long rough, tree-lined fairways, and small greens. Back then, the tournament included 18 holes on Thursday, 18 on Friday, and two full rounds, 36 holes, on Saturday.
Everyone Thinks Hogan Wins The U.S. Open
Ben Hogan was in the lead on that final Saturday when NBC was scheduled to sign off its telecast. The only person left on the course with a chance was Jack Fleck, and he needed two birdies in the last four holes just to tie the legend. So NBC told their audience Hogan would no doubt win and ended their coverage.
But then Fleck rolled in an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 15, and another on the final hole, to tie Hogan at the top of the leaderboard.
The two men squared off in an 18-hole playoff on Sunday. Fleck took a strong lead, with three straight birdies. But then the pressure started to get to him, and he bogeyed two late holes. It came down to the last hole, with Jack Fleck leading Ben Hogan by a single shot. Now it was the veteran’s turn to feel the pressure, and he hooked his drive into the rough, giving Jack Fleck the national title.
This would allow Jack Fleck to become the first Iowan to become a major champion in golf. The second and only other Iowan to win a major is Zach Johnson of Cedar Rapids. Zach won the 2007 Masters tournament.
Davenport Welcomes Home Its Golf Legend
The people of his hometown of Davenport gave Jack Fleck a parade and a new car. Fleck would only win twice more on the pro tour, but the then-new Seniors Tour revitalized his career, including a win in the PGA Seniors Championship in 1979.
He had a secret that he said helped him all those years. To avoid running out of energy, he sucked on two or three sugar cubes on each hole. He said he never came close to getting tired. No doubt it helped when Jack Fleck won the U.S. Open in a playoff over Ben Hogan, on this date in 1955.
Listen to the extended audio version of the story from Iowa Almanac by clicking on the audio player below.