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. 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.
Born on Nov. 7, 1921, in Bettendorf, Fleck learned the game as a caddie in Davenport 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."
After World War II, 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.
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.
"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.
"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.
Fleck 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. He is survived by his wife, Carmen; his son, Craig; a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter.
Services are Tuesday at the First United Methodist Church in Fort Smith.
Today is Saturday, Aug. 30, the 242nd day of 2014. There are 123 days left in the year.
1864 — 150 years ago: A large pair of elk, captured in Iowa, were exhibited in Market Square today. 1889 — 125 years ago: The Rock Island Arsenal dam was being constructed under the supervision of Charles Frances, of Lowell, Mass. 1914 — 100 years ago: Mrs. Frank Mixer, of Rock Island, was the winner of the final preliminary for the women's handicap golf cup at Rock Island arsenal links. 1939 — 75 years ago: Sixteen hundred persons — many from war-fearful Europe — arrived in New York aboard the German liner Bremen. For two days on the trip, passengers were cut off from the world with both incoming and outgoing radio messages banned. 1964 — 50 years ago: Police reported five youths have been involved in the theft of about seven cars in recent weeks. Three of the youths were arrested Saturday afternoon, one was in custody as the result of a previous arrest, and the fifth is expected to be arrested today. 1989 — 25 years ago: The Rock Island/Milan School Board is asking the city to tear down Franklin School and allow the school district to pay back the estimated $100,00 cost during 10 years.