The 2005 Senior PGA Championship
A PGA of America Event. Click to learn more

An Interview with Jack Fleck

May 24, 2005

JULIUS MASON: Ladies and gentlemen, we're pleased to be joined by Jack Fleck making his 19th appearance in the senior PGA Championship. Point of fact, his three victories on TOUR were all in playoffs, and his most significant came in the 1955 U.S. Open at Olympic club when he defeated Ben Hogan.


JULIUS MASON: So how about that, Jack. Welcome to Laurel Valley. Some opening comments and then we'll go to Q&A. Sit up there straight and we'll talk into the microphone so everybody can hear you.

JACK FLECK: Okay. They can hear me. What do they want to hear?

JULIUS MASON: They want to know if you like the golf course.

JACK FLECK: Well, the golf course here is a little bit too short for me.


JACK FLECK: That ought to get you. Had I known I may not have entered. But the golf course I played here in 1965, and in the national PGA regular championship. And there's so many holes that have changed and they made it so long it's hard to believe.

So anyway, I'm here, I've got to play and do the best I can. Chip and putt it if I can. So it's in great shape. There's no doubt about it.

I talked to one of the pros here just a little bit ago and at lunch, and he says, oh, man, he says, all these seniors, they pop it 50 yards past you. I said, yeah, I don't doubt it. But ‑‑ and he says the reason for it is all the technology. Well, I don't know, I get a certain amount of clubs and get the balls and whatnot, but mine don't seem to go that far.

(Laughter.). Any more.

JULIUS MASON: In the 1965 PGA Championship Jack, you finished tied for 20th. Can you talk about maybe just some of the memories that, from 1965 either of the golf course or how you played or what you remember about that year that event.

JACK FLECK: How did I finish?

JULIUS MASON: Tied for 20th.

JACK FLECK: I did? I didn't know I did that. But I don't remember that much, really. I didn't do anything really good. What was my low round? You got more of the records than I have.

JULIUS MASON: You shot 76, 71, 72, 73.

JACK FLECK: Well, I shot pretty good the last three there, didn't I. Well, it was a lot different golf course then than it is now, of course. And probably I could have knocked it on probably to some of the par‑5s then.

But you got one out here now the 1 the hole, it's a brand new hole, it used to be a pretty long par‑4, dogleg to the right there, I played it a couple times, I have to hit three woods to that. And lucky if I can get it on there. But it's damp, it's cool, and it plays very long for me. I'm hoping that I'll get keyed up a little bit by Thursday. I've never been very good at practice, in fact, I don't know if you people have ever read some of the other stuff and they said out in San Francisco that I shot 80 and 87. Well, a lot of the press guys would ask you, "What did you shoot? What did you shoot?" I says, "I don't keep score in the practice rounds. All I do is go out and try to learn the golf course and hit all kind of different shots." And they kept asking, "Well, what would you think you shot?" I says, "I don't know, probably 80." So it's been in the morgue now that I shot 80.

JULIUS MASON: Questions, folks?

Q. Your victory when you beat Hogan, it's kind of, over history, has been considered the most improbable victory, maybe in all of golf. At the time that did you think about that and overtime have you thought of it in those terms?

JACK FLECK: No, I've been asked that a few times. Did I think I was going to win and so on, so forth. Ahead of time. Not at all. I just had to try to control myself and play decent, steady golf. It was a golf course though that was, I will say this: There's now ‑‑ I played in 11 U.S. Open's after that, I never seen any rough like that there. And I imagine, I'm just making this up, maybe, that the USGA may have thought, here's a guy, unknown, from Iowa, beating Ben Hogan, we'll never have rough like that again, because we don't want it to happen again. But, see, I could drive the ball. And I loved the golf course. I played 44 holes a day, three days. I kept playing it. And guys even on the Regular TOUR before that, why do you play so much golf? Well, I said, Gene Littler is ten years younger than I am, but he's got many years of competitive experience on me, so I have to play a lot of golf to try to catch up those ten thousand rounds of golf he's got on me. But, no, the golf course was my piece of cake at that time. Because I loved that you could drive it. I could iron it good. But I know a great pro that I'm sure you fellows have heard of, Johnny Bulla, he's gone now. And Johnny Bulla played with me 36 holes in San Diego in 1955, San Diego open, played with me the third round at the Phoenix Open, and I did not know that he played the four rounds at the Olympic Club in June. But I played a practice round with him at Tam O'Shanter in August. And he said, Jack, I knew you could really drive it and iron it, he says I couldn't understand how you missed all those little putts that you had. You should have beat Hogan by a much bigger margin. But I could drive and iron it then, you see. And that was a premium with smaller greens in the Olympic club in San Francisco. It was just a good golf course for me.

Q. In the Dodson book it mentions that you said you were visited by angel during the 1955 Open. Has anything like that happened before or since?

JACK FLECK: No. I don't think it was that angel. I'll tell you what happened and I think that's been in the morgue a little bit. On the second round, on the fifth green, I had a feeling or something that changed in my hand on the putting green. I had about a 10 foot putt for a birdie. Tough hole, it was a very difficult hole to the right there, that fifth hole. And I made the putt.

And I putted well for me after that. I played really great the first round and I shot 76. I just couldn't put it in the tub. But at the end of the second round and I'm shaving, before the 36 hole finals that was on Saturday, you played 36 holes. I was shaving in the morning early, and out of the mirror came a voice about this volume, "Jack, you're going to win The Open." I looked around and got goose bumps, I would just all ‑‑ I was nervous about what happened. I turned to shave again and it came out the second time.

Now when I played the 36 holes, I never ever had it in my mind what came out of that mirror. Or the playoff. I just had to play good golf. But I do know this: I had a few things happen to me that I had the spiritual guidance that was going on. On the right after I made that putt, the 6th hole was the only fairway bunker. And I drove it right along the fairway and a good drive, we looked all over for it and couldn't find that ball. And I was a little concerned five minute rule, you lose it. But as I came around and I looked toward the upper part of that bunker I could see a white speck. And I went up in the trap and looked under it and there was a speck of golf ball. Somebody had not stepped on the piece of sod and the ball rolled under the piece of sod. Now I took that and if I would have been wise enough at that time I would have called for a ruling. Because I really wasn't in the sand, see. But I don't think they would have given me it. It was just one of those things, it was just, you got a bad lie, you see. Well anyway, I took a wedge and I aimed right for the fairway out here about three or four yards, and I tore that all apart. And just moved it out one yard into the fairway. And I hit a 4‑iron inside of a foot. So there was a few times that I hit shots that you couldn't believe. So I feel what came out of the mirror was what was happening to me. And I said it at the press, I said it in everything else, that I had the guidance of the lord helping me.

Q. Why you do you think at that situation? And did it ever happen again?

JACK FLECK: No, it never happened again. I can't answer that question. I can tell you how it happened. When I qualified in Chicago, 36 holes for The Open in '55, I came in, in mist and rain and cold, almost all day long. Until I had I was one of the early starters, in two holes after I got in, the sun come out like a shower, it was beautiful and warm and Erie Ball, a Chicago pro and Erie was one of the early ones. He said, "How did you do?" I said, "I didn't make it. I think I shot 73, 72." He says, "You'll make it." I says "No way, look, it's sunny, they will murder it out there." He says, "I'll bet you a dollar." And to this day I offered to pay that dollar many times, he says, "No, I want you to owe me." So anyway, so the fact still remains that I went back to, after qualifying, and Ed Oliver and a few other guys there got in. And I went there the following Monday repairing my clubs, putting on new grips, whatnot. And an older gentleman came in one of my golf courses at the shop it was real early in the morning, no golfers out yet. And he congratulated me how well I played, I says, "I didn't play that well, and he says, I haven't even come close to winning a tournament." He says, "Well, have you ever prayed to win a golf tournament?" I said, "No you don't prey to win a golf tournament. I says, sickness or death or something that's real important, yes." Well, he walked away while I was working, he came back, I don't know two minutes or five minutes, he says, "Okay, I want you to pray and ask for the power and the strength to compete." Well that hit me. I wasn't asking for anything, I was just asking for some help.

So that was the thing that I prayed for at that time and that's, that was a big help I think to me.

Q. You mentioned the technology earlier, and the clubs and the golf ball, there's a lot of talk about the golf balls traveling too far, making some of these great old courses obsolete. What's your opinion on that and do you think that there should be maybe a restricted flight ball, at least for the professional tours?

JACK FLECK: Too bad I didn't bring my book here. I got a book and a number of things. Bob here I mentioned just mentioned to him, but in a book that I wrote, I have said ‑‑ but that's only my opinion ‑‑ although Jack Nicklaus talked about this for a long time, and it's coming up now with a lot of things. I had said that no golf ball should be able to be hit more than 275 yards. No long clubs, trampoline faces, what have you. Drivers, 275. No more.

Now they say, well, we want ‑‑ USGA wants everybody to play golf. The 120 shooter or the beginner or starter, baseball has a little leagues, have aluminum bats, don't they? But they can't use it in the majors, can they? Why, I imagine that's with all sports. Let Joe Public enjoy. Amateur, let him hit the ball with all the technology. Let them hit the clubs and everything, let them make a bogey wasn't in a while. Let them make a par maybe. Let them have a thrill. But keep the pros under control because you're going to be playing to 8 and 9 thousand yard golf courses if you keep going. Does that answer that?


JULIUS MASON: Take that, John. Question front row?

Q. I think that obviously when a gentleman reaches your age people always ask you about how you are able to keep your health and play well and do that. What are some of the secrets you might have passed on?

JACK FLECK: Well, it's over the years I was born and raised and we lived on what you could grow out of the ground. We ate meat and different things. My folks didn't. My folks raised five children. They gave their lives for us five children through the depression and everything else. But over time I did increase my knowledge and playing golf and to this day I believe golf is the greatest thing for longevity. Maybe some of you fellows know, there was a man and I was in California, I think he's been gone now maybe 10 or 15 years, but he played four to six times a week. And he lived to be 103. And he had more stories contracts with banks and businesses and everything else, when he died, Anaheim named their municipal golf course, it is still Dad Miller Golf Course. And I hear that, I don't know any verification about this, that one of the foundation have donated some money to put that golf course in great shape. But getting back to the story, over the years, I ran across a man in Michigan years ago whose long passed away, he introduced me by giving me a book about Hatha yoga, see. And I started doing that and I used to get books and I and if my golf shops and on TOUR, I would buy them by the dozen and sell them. Another book, there's a lot of books on Hatha yoga. But it was Forever Young, Forever Healthy by Indra Devi. And Indra Devi and her mother, escaped from the Russian Revolution and got to Germany. And then she was a very sickly woman, young girl and woman. But she must have married someone from Germany and went to Indra ‑‑ and that's where she got involved ‑‑ and I, the story goes one more, but until she became ‑‑ she became very health wise and had these books and everything else. And a couple of three years ago she had a student in New Delhi, India and also in Buenos Aries and she was 102 or 103 then. So I think that the basic ‑‑ but my biggest failing was after I won the Open, you know, I won six thousand dollars I guess because you know, I won big money back then, but I went to doing all the exhibitions, getting as much money that I could acquire. And I did quite well. But it affected my golf game. I could not play and practice until about 1958 or '59, then I started playing better again. And whatnot. I didn't recapture any of the good putting that I had during the U.S. Open, but I did better then. But I neglected because of doing all that, I neglected my Hatha yoga, but the basis of my yoga has kept me in pretty good shape. I do the stretching and exercises and I watch what I eat. That answer it?

Q. Would you talk a little bit about your relationship with Hogan before you beat him and then afterwards. And I guess first thing, is it true that actually brought you the clubs that you beat him with?

JACK FLECK: Right. I might ask to start, you probably have seen the latest June issue of Golf Digest. Did you read the article? Well that's Bob came down to Florida last spring there. Well, it just happened this way: Skip Alexander was the golf pro and after he had that plane crash and everything and left the TOUR he took a job at Lake Side in down in Saint Petersburg, Florida. And I had heard when we were playing before it started, the qualifying, and the practice rounds, that there was a box of clubs from a new company, Ben Hogan golf company. And it was in Skip's pro shop. So I went in and asked Skip, I said ‑‑ Mike went with me, and I says, Skip, can I open that box and take a look at those clubs? I'll seal it up and pay you the postage. He says, Jack, I would appreciate it if you would seal it up, you don't have to pay any money. So I looked at these clubs, and I told Michael Walker, I said I'm going to write to the Hogan company and see if I could get some of these clubs.

And Mike says, don't waste your time, he'll never approve it. So it was about eight, ten days or so afterwards, I got a letter from the then general manager, Charlie Barnett, who was the first one. And it says that Ben Hogan says send in your specs. Now during the winter TOUR I was getting in the money somewhere between 11th and 18th place, it was only about 18 money places then anyway. It was very little money. So at any rate, I got these clubs, the spec, first I sent the specs back to the factory. And when I get up to Greensboro, PGA official says to me, Jack, you're invited to the Colonial national. They had a very technical ways to get in the old Colonial invitational and one of them was two of the likely prospects on TOUR voted in by the champions of the Colonial national. Well, Ben Hogan won it five times. He's making me clubs, don't you think I feel he was very instrumental by voting me into the tournament. He didn't tell me that personally, you about I still feel that is why I got into that tournament. So I'm going down on Monday there before the tournament, I was there at Pafford Street 8 o'clock in the morning, the lady lets me in and she says just a minute, he says I come down to see if they're making my clubs and how it's coming along. And see she said just a minute she goes in another office, outcomes Ben Hogan. First time I had ever met him personally. He came up to me, so nice. Shook hands with me and everything else, talked for a short while. And he says to the lady, take him in the back plant, little Ivy Martin was the Texas pro, Ivy Martin, no, Ivy Martinson. Short Texas pro. Played a little bit down in Texas. And I went back there and he's putting on my grips and whatnot. Even when we went through the whole plant there's all kind of barrels with all kind of clubs and he said what is he doing with all these clubs. He says they're all rejects and they're going to Japan driving ranges. So anyway, he said come back, I'll have the grips on the irons, a set of irons, except the two wedges. So I got those on Tuesday. So I heard rumors up at the club house the next day, couple of days, some of the guys the top pros went down to the factory. And they were a little upset. They could not get in the back factory and how did fleck get back there? So that was just conversation of feelings of what happened.

So anyway, I got the clubs and I practiced with them, on Tuesday and Wednesday. I practiced with them Thursday. And I played the first round with my regular old MacGregors that I had made up myself and had the MacGregor Company make me clubs. So I shot 70. Which was real good for me. I shot and I was in either tied for second or something. But I got paired with Chandler Harper. He shot either 68 or 69. And I'm telling you, I played with a guy he knocked the ball out of bounds. It was the old Fort Worth Colonial golf course. If you missed those smaller greens and missed the bunker next to it, it was going a long way on the hard dry ground. He knocked a ball out of bound on a great hole, 14th hole, and he shot 65. And I shot something like 72, which was pretty good. And I placed in the money a little bit there. But I, another thing that all the press had me and were inquiring it was first time I ever was in good shape, so now when I told them I got to hurry to go down and practice, I'm going to go tomorrow Saturday and Sunday, I'm going to change my irons. I'm going to hit. What are you doing that for? You never played this good, why are you changing now? Well these are good clubs I've been practicing with them for two or three days. They're Hogans. Well, that raised everybody local there. So I went with them. But then I got the woods and next week at Kansas City and I got the two wedges you fellows probably all know or might have read about it, Ben Hogan came early to the Olympic Club in San Francisco in '55 and he brought the two wedges to me out there. So I was fortunate to be as fortunate as I played out there with that. I had all the clubs Hogan clubs except an old Tommy Armour driver which I personally took the sole plate off and put weight under the bottom and put a new plexiglass insert in, and that was Tommy Armour and I had an old Bulls‑eye made by John Rude in his garage.

JULIUS MASON: May you all remember this much when you're 83.

JACK FLECK: Oh, you're supposed to lose it when you're 83? Wait a minute.

Q. What was your relationship with him afterwards?

JACK FLECK: Relationship what?

Q. With Hogan afterwards. Were you, did you feel friendly with him? Was he friendly to you after that?

JACK FLECK: Ben Hogan, the old timers that were on [TOUR|Tour], older than I, I had once in a while they would say to me, boy, I'll bet Hogan hates your guts for beating him. And I would say right away, hey, wait a minute, he's always treated me real well. And it continued. He's always been friendly, if I ever talked to him. Gardner Dickinson who worked for him and everything else and had clubs made by him and I tell you Gardner Dickinson when he was alive, he says, I got a set of clubs made by Hogan one of the early ones. He says they ought to be worth a lot of money. I says Gardner, did the clubs defeat Ben Hogan and deprive him of the fifth Open? No. I says you know what I got that set, he says, yeah. So by the way, I still got them.


But anyway, Ben Hogan had, it's hard to believe, somebody had written, I had read a little bit somewhere, I don't know where, in just recent years. He might have been so ‑‑ but he did also know that that year in the winter TOUR I was getting the money almost all of them, there was only about 18 money places, that might have had something to do with it. The fact that I was very poor and had to work real hard and all that stuff might have had something to do with it. Because that's the way Ben had to come up, you see. I don't really know. He's always been ‑‑ every time I telephoned or talked down there to him, I'll give you an incident, in Baltusrol, I think it was in '67, that's a little later I was talking with Ted Kroll and Jerry Barber and Doug Ford, three or four guys were around and there was other guys on the green and we're chatting and I hear a voice it says, hi, Jack? I turned around, it's Ben Hogan up there about 15, 20 feet. So I go over, chat, how you do you think. Come back. And Ted Kroll says, that's the first time I've ever seen Ben Hogan address somebody's back. So there must have been something that he liked me for. Because every time or any time always. Now some guys in different times, have asked me, how come I didn't go to the funeral? Well, when he passed away I called the Colonial Country Club and asked for the name of the funeral home where he was being held. And whatnot. So I called the funeral home, I says, will you be open early in the morning? No, we're not going to because of the commotion and all of the tension that's going on with this funeral we're not opening until noon. So I made the decision that I did not want to go down and get any attention drawn away from Ben Hogan.

Because I haven't said it yet, I patterned a lot of things after Ben Hogan. When I first was going down thereto try to qualify, at tournaments on winter TOUR different things, I would either go over watch from the side of the woods or other things, and watch him. And then you could hit a ball or two, he would hit a ball, a lot of times he played alone. And then he would lock over and he would look over, he's either maybe they said he had a memory that was something. So he was probably memorizing where the shot he hit from. A tree, a bunker or something. I went back to Iowa and when there was a light snow I kept pacing to measure that. I would have one yard and when the first wheels come out on the TOUR by the caddies, I used to harass these guys, I said you're six or eight inches off on that one. How do you know? I says I paced it. So I was the first one that paced for yardage. Some of the guys I played with I would make notes on the scorecard on the hole to one third on the green and two third on the green. So I was the first one to pace yardage for a long time. So I watched, I used to keep records from the Davenport newspapers when they would only put six eight ten scores in on the winter TOUR and then all of a sudden I seen a name, Ben Hogan and it would creep up. And he went through the Carolinas one year and he won three tournaments in a row. So I patterned a lot of things that Ben Hogan did and his concentration and whatnot. I certainly didn't hit the ball as well as he did or anything else. But I could hit the ball pretty good tee to green.

Q. I read somewhere where before the '55 open you wrote a newspaper column and you had Hogan as the favorite, but you were, put yourself as a dark horse.

JACK FLECK: At Olympic?

Q. Yes. At Olympic?

JACK FLECK: Oh, no. That I had said what? That I was the dark horse?

Q. Yes.

JACK FLECK: No, you know, you guys are in the business, there is some fascinations, there is some dramatizing in writing and so on, so forth, you have to. No way had I ever said that I might have a chance to win the U.S. Open. I'm sorry. There's no way. Oh, I was playing hard to do everything. I wanted to make the cut so I would be exempt for the 1956 U.S. Open. That was my big goal. No, there's a lot of them that have been ‑‑ you know that as well as I do.

Q. Can you talk about after '55 and after winning the U.S. Open, what that did for you, not only from a confidence standpoint but actually we're talking 50 years ago and you're still playing professional golf today. What that allowed you to do over the next 50 years.

JACK FLECK: The next 50 years?

Q. With that, the win allowed you to do. Because obviously as you said, you were just trying to get exempt into '56?

JACK FLECK: Yeah, you about I continued to play. I didn't play well as I just mentioned earlier for about three years there. I was out doing a lot of exhibitions and business arrangements and whatnot. I'm not going to give you the amount of money and I'm not going to give you all the names, but other than Ben Hogan, all the way through Lloyd Mangrum and a lot of other ones, the ones that I talked to, from the day they won the U.S. Open to the day they defended, I asked different guys how much money they had made out of the open. And I think Ed Furgol, I'll give you that one, because he won the year before I did, and he told me, his and I had a lot of guy that is were a lot less than that. Including Mangrum and everything else. There wasn't as much money back then. 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. And that happened a few years later on by other guys. Are you going to go and do exhibitions or are you going to continue to stay on the TOUR so you stay sharp. But I started to play better in '58 and '59 after that was all over. And I should have won more. There was a couple other guy, but I really blew the 1960 Open at ‑‑ as a matter of fact I played the first 36 holes with Arnold Palmer. Cherry Hills. I'm going to give you a little incident nobody even remembers. I remember talking to some pros years ago they never even remembered it. In 1960, there was a rule by the USGA no penalty for out of bounds. As a matter of fact, I was in Southern California, Southern California was going to break away from the USGA because of that rule in early April. They said, no, no, no, no, this is the word I got from southern California, because we made a mistake, we're going to change it in December on December 31st. Well I played with Arnold when he knocked it out of bounds, 14th hole, second round. Good hole. Hit another drive, hit another one, hit it on the green, over into the shallow water with all the weeds and everything else. He went in there with his caddy, hit it out, cleaned the ball, here it is, my mark. Hold about a 35, 40 footer. He made five. Big difference, no penalty for out of bounds. So in a way you might say Arnold's got another record. But it's an official one and it's not anything wrong, he won the U.S. Open with a ball out of bounds, no penalty. We played all year long that way.

JULIUS MASON: Questions? Questions twice? Thank you very much for coming down, Mr. Fleck. We would love to see you down here on Thursday, if you know what I mean?

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