Monday, June 6

Jack Fleck, U.S. Open Qualifying and an Unpaid $1 Bet

SIXTY-ONE YEARS AGO TODAY JACK FLECK teed it up in the 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Lincolnshire Country Club in Crete, Illinois. It was a wet and breezy day, and Fleck played 34 holes in a cool rain. He finished with 73 and 73 for 146, and didn't like his chances of qualifying for the 1955 U.S. Open to be played at the Olympic Club.

Yours truly and Jack Fleck in North Carolina in 2009.
Club pro Errie Ball saw things differently. He and Fleck were friendly acquaintances. From my book THE LONGEST SHOT, this was their memorable exchange on June 6, 1955:
"How did you do?" Ball asked. 
"I don't think I'm going to qualify," Fleck replied.
"I'll bet you a dollar that you qualify." 
"There's some players still out. I'm hanging around here putting just to keep loose." 
"I still bet a dollar you make it." 
Then Ball eased his car into gear. 
"I'll see you in San Francisco," he said, as Fleck waited anxiously on the putting green. Would he? 
At Lincolnshire the final players streamed off the course in the later afternoon and tallied their scorecards. Errie Ball's math had been correct. With the qualifying mark set at 147, Ball's 145 and Fleck's 146 were in. They would see each other in San Francisco after all. The course conditions had proved tough. Ball's 145 was second best to medalist Ed Oliver's 143. 
"He still owes me a dollar," Ball said, chuckling, a half century later in reference to the friendly wager, although Fleck said Ball refused payment through the years. 
"He said, 'I want you to owe me,'" Fleck recalled.
Of course, many of us know what happened less than two weeks later in June 1955. Fleck stunned Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff to win the U.S. Open. He would cherish and defend that improbable victory for the rest of his days.


Fairway First Golf said...

I love this story for so many reasons. Golf does seem to throw up these out of the blue winners more than any other high-profile sport. Maybe it is the very humblingvnature of the game-even the greatest can get it wrong enough sometimes (thinking of Spieth at the Masters for example). I wonder if another story like this is waiting to happen next week?

The Armchair Golfer said...

Thank you.