LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The man who beat Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open to claim one of the biggest upsets in golf said Monday the similarities between his win 52 years ago and Zach Johnson’s victory over Tiger Woods at the Masters are outnumbered by the differences.
About 1.3 million differences.
An Iowan and a relative unknown like Johnson, Jack Fleck was in his first full year on the professional circuit when he made two birdies on the final four holes at San Francisco’s The Olympic Club to tie Hogan at 287 after four rounds.
In an 18-hole playoff the next day, Fleck shot a 69 to Hogan’s 72 and captured his first professional victory.
On Sunday, Johnson pulled away from Woods, Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini with three birdies in four holes to finish with a final-round 3-under 69 for a two-shot win. It was Johnson’s second-ever victory — and the first time Woods failed to regain a lead lost in the final round of a major.
Fleck, 85, is accustomed to sharing his thoughts when a golfer defies all odds to win a major. Calls poured in to Fleck’s Fort Smith home in 2003, when 500-1 long shot Ben Curtis won the British Open.
And Fleck’s phone started ringing before Johnson put on the green jacket Sunday.
“Most of the guys that called, they wanted to compare my beating Hogan to Zach Johnson beating Tiger Woods,” Fleck said Monday as he was on his way to play a round of golf. “But … there’s a little difference in the comparison.
“In the first place, I had to come into a tie and he wins outright. He didn’t have to tie anybody. He didn’t have to play again. I had to play the next day — 18 holes — and I win $6,000 and he wins $1,335,000. I said ‘that’s the difference in the comparison.”‘
Fleck, who played at Augusta 11 times on the tour, said he watched Sunday’s round intently after a windy and cold Saturday in which only one player was able to break par.
While Fleck said his wife was rooting for Johnson, he was cheering for all the players — except Woods.
“I was rooting for any one of the guys,” Fleck said. “But I think it’d be better for golf that Tiger Woods does not really dominate that much. I like to see people that can challenge Tiger Woods. He’s the greatest player in the world.”
Fleck tries to play golf every day the weather allows – he shoots at his age or slightly lower – and is preparing to play in the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf tournament in Savannah, Ga., next week.
And although Johnson kept his cool and made the shots he needed to make to win, Fleck said he could help him handle the sudden fame.
“I know one thing,” Fleck said. “With my experience, I could help the guy. But he can really hit it and really play.”