Lost in the pages of golf history is a remarkable story of an unknown municipal golf professional who won the 1955 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Author Neil Sagebiel’s account of the courage and determination of Jack Fleck, who late on a Saturday afternoon came out of the pack to tie the legendary Ben Hogan, and then go on to defeat him in an 18-hole playoff, is dramatically recounted in The Longest Shot. It is a Cinderella story of a young professional from Iowa who against all odds wins the U.S. Open. It is also the bittersweet account of Ben Hogan’s last hurrah.
Hogan in his day was the Tiger Wood of golf, unbeatable and unapproachable, a man who had overcome a terrible 1949 automobile accident to come back to golf. Nearing the end of his long career, Hogan was seeking his fifth Open championship.
Jack Fleck, on the other hand, was a unknown assistant driving range pro from Iowa. He had joined the PGA tour only six months before the Open. As the author of this book, Neil Sagebiel, carefully and with great prose, tells this tale of triumph and also, a little tragedy. It is a David-and-Goliath clash in California.
The setup in 1955 was 4 rounds played over 3 days, with a grueling 36 on Saturday. If there was need for a playoff, 18 more holes would be played on Sunday. The tournament was just the third golf event televised to a national audience.
No one could have foreseen a playoff as Hogan began to take charge of the tournament on the second round. But Fleck, nine shots off the lead, began to slowing move up the leader board late on Friday afternoon. Still he was a long shot.
On Saturday afternoon, however, when Hogan finished with a comfortable lead, it was assumed he had won. So certain was NBC that they signed off the telecast and proclaimed Ben the winner. Fleck was still on the course. Then Jack Fleck, staging an odds-defying rally over the final few holes, caught Hogan late on Saturday to tie him and force a Sunday 18-hole playoff.
This is just the beginning of a historic golf story, one that is dramatically told. If you are looking for a Father’s Day present for the family member who plays golf, this is it!
The book comes out this month from Thomas Dunne Books. Neil Sagebiel, as I said, is the author and he is also the blogger on Armchair Golf, one of the top golf blogs on the internet. Check out his site. And buy his book! Read it quickly! Then gift wrap it and give the copy to your Dad or husband as his Father’s Day present!
You can’t lose and you may be tempted to take up the game.