|Left to right: Ed Tallach, Jack Fleck and Andy Reistetter in 2010. (Courtesy of Andy Reistetter)|
By Ed Tallach
Copyright © Ed Tallach. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
HAVING JACK FLECK AS A FRIEND and an associate has been a great highlight of my life. When I was a youngster and as an aspiring tournament golfer, I watched Jack play in the 1967 Illinois Open in the Chicago area where he was the pro at the prestigious Green Acres Country Club. He had taken club-pro jobs at that stage of his career that would allow him to compete on the tour on a part-time basis.
I moved to Arkansas in 1970. When I heard of his project of building a unique concept golf course in Magazine, Arkansas, I had to make the trip from my home in Hot Springs to possibly have a chance to meet a U.S. Open champion in person. We began a relationship that evolved into us working and traveling together since that initial meeting. I have had the distinct privilege of observing the admiration, respect and love the golf community has for this man, nationwide and also in the British Isles.
Jack's life differed from most celebrity athletes of his era in that his main interests were centered on health and fitness. He was a pioneer in this area.
Gary Player shared with me personally how Jack's life was an inspiration to him. After Player watched him hit balls at The Legends tournament last year , he turned to me and said, "He is the bionic man."
Jack Nicklaus, Player's partner in the event, asked Jack for his driver's license on the practice tee to prove he was actually 91 years of age.
Lee Trevino, who we have spent quality time with stated, "When I grow up, I want to be like Jack."
Jack's diet regime was very rigid, and when traveling was very difficult to maintain—sometimes, if I may add, to the point of extreme frustration for me. I can recall invitations to prominent celebrity functions that were turned down due to the menu. He was always quick to share with the wait staff, and, at times with restaurant management at some of the country's finest restaurants, the benefits of proper diet and how they could improve their offerings accordingly.
Jack was best known for his historic 1955 U.S. Open win over Ben Hogan. His other regular tour and senior tour accomplishments are rarely mentioned. He was the 1960 Phoenix Open champion, and in that same year lost twice in sudden-death playoffs. Arnold Palmer defeated him at the Insurance City Open in Hartford, Connecticut, and George Bayer chipped in to defeat him on the first playoff hole of the St. Petersburg Open in Florida.
But for you golf historians, the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills in Denver is heralded as the historic changing of the guard, with Arnold Palmer winning in a charge, a young Jack Nicklaus as an amateur finishing second and an aging Ben Hogan fading the last nine. The story should have included Jack, who tied for third. This part of the story was disclosed to all in attendance at the 50th anniversary celebration of this historic tournament that Jack and I attended in 2010. His last 18 holes during that 36-hole final included five three-putts, four of them in the last nine, once from 3 feet. He basically handed Palmer the title and let the young Nicklaus slip by him for second.
Jack's last regular tour win was the 1961 Bakersfield Open, and he added another major win to his resume with the 1979 Senior PGA Championship.
I will attest to Jack's faith and love of the Lord. He would emotionally share this with me on every trip we made, and he had the opportunity through his celebrity status to do the same on national stages both via television and the news media. His 1955 experience of the Lord speaking to him personally is legendary.
So, to his loving wife Carmen, son Craig, granddaughter Jennifer and his Hardscrabble Country Club family, I extend my sympathy for this great loss, but with confidence that Jack has been taken from us by the angels of the Lord to his well-deserved place in heaven.