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The Longest Shot: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf's Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open Kindle Edition
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“Fifty-seven years after the fact (and in time for this year's Open at Olympic), two books about one of golf's most improbable upsets have surfaced simultaneously. Like the clash between Hogan and Fleck, the works pit an established, celebrated veteran against a relative upstart. And as in 1955, the upstart wins. But, unlike in 1955, it's not close. The Longest Shot is the first book from Neil Sagebiel, the founder and editor of Armchair Golf Blog, and he makes a strong bid to create shelf space for himself alongside 21st-century golf literati like John Feinstein, Mark Frost and Don Van Natta Jr. Sagebiel takes his time, working leisurely as golf demands, but does a thorough job. And his narrative pace during the last hour of that final round, as he bounces back and forth between Hogan in the locker room and Fleck on the course, may have a rhythm more suited to a tennis rally, but here it aces.” ―The New York Times Sunday Book Review
“A compelling read…Golf historians can thank Sagebiel.” ―PGA Magazine
“Long before a small circle of American kids dismantled the Soviets' Big Red Machine at Lake Placid, Jack Fleck's defeat of the mighty Ben Hogan at the 1955 U.S. Open was as stunning and stirring an upset as sports had ever seen. In The Longest Shot, Neil Sagebiel not only expertly reconstructs the million-to-one tale of the Iowa muni pro who denied Hogan his chance to become the only man to win the Open five times, he honors the grand tradition of profound and poetic literature in golf.” ―Ian O'Connor, New York Times bestselling author of Arnie & Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus, and Golf's Greatest Rivalry
“The Longest Shot is the remarkable story of how Jack Fleck, the improbably named municipal course pro from Iowa, defeated the great Ben Hogan at the 1955 U.S. Open. Moment by moment, Neil Sagebiel lyrically describes the drama of the David-and-Goliath clash at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Sagebiel persuades a new generation of readers that Fleck's triumph was not only the most unlikely result at a U.S. Open, but one of the greatest upsets in American sports history. The Longest Shot is destined to become a classic of golf literature.” ―Don Van Natta Jr., New York Times bestselling author of First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush and Wonder Girl: The Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias
“Iowa golfer topples big-time golf legend. Zach Johnson over Tiger Woods at the 2007 Masters? Sure, that was a huge upset. But how does it compare to another Iowa golfer taking down an icon? Jack Fleck had never won on tour, was playing a few hours behind the immortal Ben Hogan--who had already accepted congratulations for winning the 1955 U.S. Open--and had to birdie the 18th hole just to tie the four-time Open champion. Then it was on to an 18-hole playoff the next day in which the unknown Iowa muni pro knocked off his idol by three strokes. In The Longest Shot, Neil Sagebiel details how this remarkable outcome unfolded.” ―Bob Harig, senior golf writer, ESPN.com
“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 onto 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.” ―John Coyne, author of The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan
“The Longest Shot is more than the story of the greatest upset in U.S. Open history. It's a book for anyone who's ever risked everything to follow a dream. Golfers owe Sagebiel a thank you for lending a voice to this oft-forgotten tale.” ―Bob Smiley, author of Follow the Roar: Tailing Tiger for All 604 Holes of His Most Spectacular Season
“Upsets are the lifeblood of sports, and golf has provided its share--but arguably none so startling as unheralded Jack Fleck's triumph over the legendary Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. In "Dewey Beats Truman" fashion, NBC proclaimed Hogan the winner of his unprecedented fifth U.S. Open while there was still one man on the course, the unknown Iowan Fleck, who had a chance to tie. He did exactly that, with a birdie on the eighteenth hole, and then went on to beat Hogan by three strokes in the next day's playoff. Sagebiel wrings every ounce of drama and poignancy out of this remarkable sporting event, backtracking to tell the story of the lanky, teetotaling, socially insecure Fleck's improbable rise to success and judiciously reprising Hogan's life and career, including the nearfatal car accident and the inspirational comeback that followed it. And, of course, just like in a movie, Fleck idolized Hogan and was the first professional, other than Hogan himself, to use Hogan-designed clubs. But it's the on-course drama that golf fans will relish, Fleck, "whose long, fluid golf swing wrapped around his lean body like a loose belt," besting the man whose steely determination to win that fifth Open made him seem unbeatable. As fellow player Bob Rosburg observed about the outcome, "It defied everything anybody knew about golf." Great storytelling and great golf history.” ―Booklist
“Neil Sagebiel of Floyd County captures the drama and the ambiance of professional golf in the mid-1950s in a book that will delight golfers but also enhance any reader's understanding of American society in post-World War II America. The story of Iowa club pro Jack Fleck's rise from obscurity to win the U.S. Open is the essence of the American Dream....Sagebiel brings to life the drama of the tournament and the long road to arrive there. He also re-creates a time when golf was just a sport, and the players enjoyed the game without the money and the fame that accompany modern-day athletes. Reading this book is like reading the golf coverage from a major newspaper in the 1950s when a keen ability to describe the players and their venue was the key to having readers.” ―Roanoke Times
“The author's imaginative narrative…gives a fascinating insight into Hogan's character, avoiding death by inches in a 1951 car crash to become one of the game's great icons.” ―GolfMagic.com--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
In March 1955, after a week at home in Iowa to ready his two Davenport municipal courses for the upcoming golf season, Jack Fleck drove 1,300 miles southeast to rejoin the PGA Tour at the $12,500 St. Petersburg Open, the first event of the annual Florida swing.
For Fleck, sunny St. Petersburg wouldn’t be just another routine stop on the tournament calendar. It would be a turning point, an unexpected detour in the career of a wannabe tour golf professional who was determined to lift his game as high as his hopes. A long cardboard box bound for Fort Worth, Texas, awaited him in Skip Alexander’s pro shop at the Lakewood Country Club. The contents of that box would put his season and golf career on a surprising new path.
Fleck, now thirty-three with a wife and four-year-old son, needed any break he could get to achieve his dream of playing the PGA Tour full-time. Money was scarcer than birdies on the tournament trail, and he had family responsibilities. The pro golf tour was a young man’s game—preferably those with a healthy bankroll. Fleck’s youth was fading, and his twentieth-place finishes didn’t earn him enough money or recognition to escape obscurity.
Fleck arrived on the palm tree–lined streets of St. Petersburg with his tour career riding on every drive, approach, chip, and putt. He needed to become a successful PGA Tour player, someone who could make an adequate living and support his family while playing the full circuit. The unfulfilling alternative was clear: He would return to Iowa for good and settle for the humble life of a hometown pro. The 1950s PGA Tour was unlike today’s giant money grab; there was no financial security for marginal or middle-of-the-pack players, especially family men like Fleck.
Jack and Lynn Fleck had made their decision about his golf future before the 1955 season teed off in Los Angeles in January. Fleck would play full-time on the PGA Tour for two seasons while Lynn and Jack’s assistant pro ran Davenport’s two public golf courses. Not exactly a pact, the arrangement was one of those understandings between husbands and wives. This was Fleck’s shot. With his two-year trial period, he would either make it on the tour, or, as Lynn said, “you will get it out of your system.”
Maybe so—but it was hard to imagine that Fleck, a golf professional since the age of seventeen, would ever be cured of tournament golf.
* * *
A native Iowan, Jack Fleck was the head club professional of Davenport’s Duck Creek Golf Course and Credit Island Golf Course, a post he had held since 1947. Iowa’s third-largest city, Davenport was located 175 miles due west of Chicago on the Mississippi River, which formed the state’s eastern border. Overseen by the Davenport Parks and Recreation Department, Duck Creek and Credit Island were Davenport’s home of public golf. The greens fee for 18 holes was seventy-five cents, an affordable alternative to the private Davenport Country Club, the golfing playground of the privileged set.
Duck Creek opened in 1927 and was located in a residential neighborhood on Davenport’s northeast side, not far from Jack and Lynn Fleck’s home on East Street. It was a rolling, tree-lined layout of modest difficulty, playing under 6,000 yards and to a par of 70. There was no driving range. When Fleck gave lessons, he and his pupil would go to a nearby section of the city park. A caddie would tag along to shag the practice golf balls.
Several miles away, Credit Island was a small island in the Mississippi connected to the Iowa shoreline by a paved causeway. Also an 18-hole course, Credit Island featured a large clubhouse and practice field. The course had been invaded by the rising currents of the colossal river many times in its thirty-year history. In the spring of 1951, four years into Fleck’s tenure, the course became submerged beneath fifteen feet of water. Credit Island was to flooding what California was to earthquakes.
Like many club pros of his day, Fleck earned his modest income from merchandise sales, golf lessons, and club repairs. The city of Davenport leased the two pro shops to Fleck for a dollar a year but paid him no salary. Similar to Iowa farmers, he lived off the land—his two golf courses. The length of his days at Duck Creek and Credit Island matched those of men toiling in nearby fields, lasting from first light to sundown.
The Davenport muni pro looked nothing like an Iowa farmer, though. While overalls and dungarees were the uniform of the farmer, creased trousers, cotton sweaters, polo shirts, and flat caps were the apparel of the postwar golf professional. One who set an immaculate standard for golf attire was Ben Hogan, the era’s greatest golfer and Fleck’s secret idol. Hogan looked the part of a golf god.
“The first thing that struck me about Hogan when I saw him the first time in person was his perfect clothes,” Tom Weiskopf, a later-generation tour pro, told Hogan biographer James Dodson. “I’d never seen shirts that fit so beautifully on a human being before.”
Hogan’s “perfect clothes” came in conservative blues and grays. His apparel featured trousers with razor-sharp creases, cardigan sweaters, tailored shirts, and polished leather golf shoes, each shoe with an extra spike for better stability. Hogan’s clothing was custom-made. He routinely removed labels, he said, to avoid offending anyone.
“I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Nobody ever looked the way Hogan did,” Weiskopf said.
Still, there were imitators. Hogan protégé Gardner Dickinson emulated the golf legend in almost every conceivable way, from clothing to golf swing to mannerisms, even puffing away on cigarettes. Hogan smoked Chesterfields, and no one would be a bit surprised if Dickinson did, too.
Fleck didn’t smoke. He never had, despite two older brothers who smoked, and despite serving in the U.S. Navy, where cigarettes were as commonplace as salutes. Fleck epitomized wholesomeness. He shunned tobacco, alcohol, and vices in all forms. His mother once told him he would be just like his brothers, smoking and such—a form of reverse psychology, he surmised. Whatever his mother’s motivation might have been, he turned out squeaky clean, a straight arrow who had no interest in straying from his heartland values.
Nor did Fleck have Hogan’s perfect clothes, but he was blessed with good looks and a slender frame that helped off-the-rack golf shirts and pleated trousers look sharp on him. He stood 6'1½" tall and weighed 164 pounds, a weight he would maintain within a pound or two for the next half century. He favored his father, Louis Fleck, but had the gentle eyes of his mother, Elsie. His eyes were green. His thick brown hair was neatly parted, and his face featured dark, bushy eyebrows, a long nose, dimples, and a strong chin. It was a friendly, handsome face that, in photographs, sometimes had an aw-shucks grin and at other times a broad, gleaming smile. Lynn once gushed that her husband looked like matinee idol Tyrone Power, Hollywood’s romantic lead in movies such as The Mark of Zorro and The Black Swan.
Fleck’s movements matched his lanky frame. There was nothing abrupt or jerky about how he carried himself or approached golf. He had the easy, casual way of a man on an afternoon stroll. One golf writer wrote that Fleck “had a loose-jointed walk, his arms and legs flapping about as if with no plan.” The Iowa pro remembered being called “slew foot” because his right foot turned out when he walked, the result of a broken leg at age seven when he and his older brothers were horsing around in an empty public swimming pool. Others described him as angular, straight, and Lincolnesque. Fleck possessed a long, fluid golf swing that wrapped around his lean body like a loose belt. He moved with unassuming ease.
Exhibiting social grace, on the other hand, was among Fleck’s most enduring life challenges. He had been painfully shy since his schooldays. He would always choose to make a special project with his dependable hands rather than face the terror of an oral presentation to his classmates. “I would build guillotines or whatever illustrated the stories we were studying so I could get credit and not have to get up in front of people,” he said.
In his early days as an assistant pro at the Des Moines Golf and Country Club, he preferred the solitude of the club room. He dreaded the encounters with customers in the pro shop. “At first, I was so bashful … that I had to talk myself into going into the front golf shop to wait on the members that wanted service.”
His strongly held values, combined with his social unease, sometimes worked against him. Fleck was modest, serious, and, at times, stubborn. He was plainspoken and unflinchingly honest, which sometimes rankled others. Sugarcoating was not his style. He did not believe in undertaking special efforts to be popular or endear himself to others. He eschewed the art of politics that was so enmeshed in society.
Instead, Fleck sided with the unvarnished truth as he saw it, even if it occasionally hurt. Because there were few gray areas in his world, he tended to let fewer people in. In many ways, this made the solitary rhythms of life as a golf pro a perfect fit for Fleck, who was, at heart, a loner. He was adept with his hands, wielding a club, swinging it, and sending a golf ball toward a distant target. As in his days as a Davenport schoolboy, he would rather show you what he could do than talk about it.
* * *
Jack met Lynn when she walked into his pro shop in the summer of 1949. She wanted the pro to repair a golf club. The pro wanted a date. “I talked her into having dinner,” he said. “We had many dates that summer and fall.” The broken c...
- ASIN : B006JJYTEE
- Publisher : Thomas Dunne Books (May 22, 2012)
- Publication date : May 22, 2012
- Language : English
- File size : 1132 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 337 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,811,630 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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One thing that I found special about Mr Sagebiel's telling of the story is the sense of anticipation I got as the events of that long-ago week unfolded in the pages of the book - as I read along, especially when reading about the final regulation round and the playoff round, I found that I couldn't wait to see what happened next, even though I knew how the tournament ended! I got that same sense of anticipation when watching the Tom Hanks movie "Apollo 13" -- even though I had watched those events unfold on TV at the time, the movie was so well done that I could feel the tension and the drama of the story playing out as if I had no knowledge of the ending.
I also like the way that Mr Sagebiel let the reader know what Jack Fleck was all about, what kind of a man he was at the time. Over the years this story has been told more from the point of view of this fluky thing happening to Ben Hogan; Mr Sagebiel tells the story from Jack's side, and bring out a fuller portrait of him than "unknown muni course pro". I especially liked the description of the aftermath of the Open, and the effect that the win had on Jack's life. I see parallels in the aftermath of Bubba Watson's Masters win. (Jack Fleck was at the 2012 Open, and I saw him there, though I did not meet him. He is still quite a character - vital and active at 90 years of age. It was a real treat to see him return to the site of his great victory.)
Bottom line - thoroughly researched and exceedingly well-written, "The Longest Shot" is a valuable contribution to the literature of golf history, and belongs on the bookshelf of every golfer who is interested in the history of the game. Mr Sagebiel deserves the thanks of golf fans for bringing this great story of a significant event in the history of golf more fully to light.
Why in the world did I buy a book about this strange sport? Okay, here's full disclosure: I knew Neil Sagebeil as an advertising copywriter here in Seattle before he moved away to the little town of Floyd, Virginia now many years ago. When he left, I missed him because I thought he was a fine man and a very good writer. Along the way I re-discovered him on the Internet and periodically read and enjoyed his newsletter describing his new life in Floyd as well as dishing out smart bits of wisdom about writing and marketing communications.
When I finally learned that he had not only published THE LONGEST SHOT, but that Booklist, the very influential and authoritative literary industry reviewer, had named it one of the 10 top sports books of the year, I was enormously impressed. And as a fellow author, enormously jealous. I had to read it.
Boy, was I ever glad I did. I ordered it on Amazon Prime, so I would get it almost immediately. It came three days ago. I read it in the first two. Unable to put it down, I read far into the night. It is a totally absorbing story and superb writing. Illuminating the careers of a world acclaimed sports champion colliding at the 1955 US Open with a barely recognized club pro from Davenport, Iowa, The Longest Shot is a BIG story. It brought two powerful personalities and a huge supporting cast to me and presented me with a picture of tournament golf that blew me away. Sagebeil's research was extensive, deep and immaculate. In a field that is riddled with myth, legend and rumor it is clear to me that THE LONGEST SHOT is truth, beautifully told. I won't even complain about the background of golf jargon with its bogeys, birdies, front and back nines, loft, shanks, hosels, poa annua grass, breaks uphill and downhill and to the right or left, galleries, bunkers and 3-puts. Sagebeil made his book a golf EXPERIENCE as he meticulously drafted the dimensions and scope of the conflict which was essentially about exceptional men mastering themselves in an environment deliberately designed to make that nearly impossible.
If you've never bought a golf book, you should make this your first one. If you're a devoted golfer I am sure you will agree with Booklist that this is one of the best. Buy it and enjoy the adventure!
The Open upset in 1955 at Olympic Club was brought to all of our minds with the recent Open happening there and the TV interview with Fleck himself. This spurred my purchase of this volume and read it with pleasure and interest as it is very well written. It tracks the two different paths for the '55 playoff, one a obscure pro from Iowa and the other the renowed Hawk who was nearing the end of a marvelous career.
This is developed over the years and then becomes more detailed as the Open in San Francisco and what leads up to it. Amazing and fascinating to this Christian golfer is the faith of this man and that he took a portable phonograph (remember those) and played Mario Lanza singing "I'll Walk with God," and his hearing a voice several times saying to him "Jack, you are going to win the Open." This coupled with his saying to Hogan before the playoff, "You'll know what I mean," without his even knowing why he said it.
The connection between Hogan and Fleck with boy playing Hogan clubs is amazing. Finally, the Cherry Creek Open transceting the career of Fleck, Hogan, Palmer and Nicklaus. Truly this is a book worth reading and owning.