Billy Casper and Jack Fleck
BETH MAJOR: Good morning. Welcome to the 112th U.S. Open. We're happy to have you all here today. We are very happy that you've joined us for this special news conference featuring our 1955 and 1966 U.S. Open champions. I think to understand the significance of the history of the U.S. Open at it really pays to speak with some of the wonderful champions that would he have had and we're very honored to have Mr. Fleck and Mr. Casper here with us today. I would like to turn the proceedings over to the executive director of the USGA, Mike Davis, who will welcome our champions today.
MIKE DAVIS: Beth, thank you and welcome everybody. Some of you I haven't seen yet, so welcome. And I think we're in for great week. But it is a distinct pleasure, and I mean that sincerely, to have the two gentlemen to my left here today and it's rare for to us get some of our living legends back, but one of my predecessors Frank Hannigan once said that something always magical happens when we have a U.S. Open here and he's right. And you look back there's just some magical moments and to get Jack Fleck and Billy Casper here to kind of reminisced about some things is very special.
Later in the week by the way we will be getting Scott Simpson here as well so some great things from '87 as well. Let me start out today, what I thought we would do is I'll just give a very brief background on the two of these gentlemen to my left, and then we'll open it up for Q&A and let and let them talk because I know you're really not interested in hearing me talk.
But Jack, interestingly, he is the second oldest living Major champion. And he's the oldest U.S. Open champion at 91 years of age. And when you think back to 1955 I think that had to be, in U.S. Open history, one of the great Opens in terms of upsets. When you go back to 1913 when Francis Ouimet beat the great duo of Ted Ray and Harry Vardon, certainly that would rank up there as well, but you think back, in that year, 1955, Jack Fleck had just joined the PGA TOUR as a member and here he's got this great duel with Ben Hogan that at that point had already won four Opens.
And interestingly, when you look back, Jack, you opened up with a 76 the first round, so it wasn't as if anybody was really looking at you to, as potential champion, and then even on the final day, when Hogan finishes before Fleck, NBC actually went off the air, calling that Ben Hogan was your champion that or was the champion that year and you happened to birdie two of the holes coming in, including the last hole and force a 18 hole playoff and went on to win. So it was just magical looking back.
Billy, there was certainly some magic in 1966 too when you obviously had won the '59 Open at Winged Foot, but that year, and again I think everybody in the room knows that Arnold Palmer had a seven shot lead, seven shot lead with nine to play. You think about the 1960 Open at Cherry Hills where Arnold, we continue to talk about him coming back from six shots down with 18 to play. But here you have a situation of being seven up with nine to play. And we talk about Arnold's 39, but people forget that Billy, you shot a 32, got a hot putter, and was just great and then went on to win that one as well.
Billy also after that went on to win a Masters and then a Senior, a U.S. Open Senior Open championship. So with that, I thought it maybe ask the first question and Jack, in fact the same question to two of you, when you think back to your respective U.S. Open victories, what was the one thing that week that you remember that really kind of crystallized things that allowed you to really win your open? What are your memories in that respect?
JACK FLECK: Well, there's no doubt about it, that I putted very well for me. That has to be a big thing. As a matter of fact, since you mentioned it, if I would have been half as good in 1960, Mr. Palmer would have not won that tournament.
MIKE DAVIS: That's right. Jack finished tied for third that year in 1960. That is exactly right.
JACK FLECK: Yeah. But I think I missed five little putts in the last nine holes alone.
MIKE DAVIS: Wow. Amazing. Billy?
JACK FLECK: Sorry, but that happens. That's golf.
MIKE DAVIS: Billy, what are your, what were your keys that week?
BILLY CASPER: Well, you know, I watched Arnold play such magnificent golf on the front nine, I really felt that he was going to win the tournament.
I had checked the scoreboard and I found that I was two shots ahead of the, ahead of Jack Nicklaus and Tony Lema, and so I wanted to finish second and informed Arnold of that and he said, I'll try to do everything to help you.
And as I got away from him I said I'm going to make pars and birdies this nine. And I also put on in my mind the Arnold Palmer charge along with that.
MIKE DAVIS: That's right.
BILLY CASPER: And as the nine started unfolding, it was really unbelievable what transpired and of course 15 was the key to where I picked up two shots and became only three shots behind and it was the first time that I felt that I could win the U.S. Open that year.
I think it was the first time Arnold felt that he could lose it. And panic set in on him. He struggled the last three holes and it was an unbelievable experience. It's one I'll never forget. It was interesting to see how the gallery left Arnie's Army and became Casper Converts.
MIKE DAVIS: Very interesting. As I mentioned, Billy, you went on to win a Masters after that, but interestingly, Arnold never went on to win another Major after that. So that, all his Majors happened before the '66 open.
BILLY CASPER: Yeah. You know, it was interesting as we walked off the green on the last hole, he had congratulated me for winning the tournament and his head was hung. If you look at the last picture in the book, in the book that just has come out, I put my arm around his shoulder and I said, Arnold, I'm sorry. And I truly, I was sorry. You know, we have such empathy for each other. And I was very interested in seeing what would transpire between Faldo and Greg Norman when Norman had the insurmountable lead going into the last round of the Masters. And after they shook hands Faldo said, can I hug you? So it was very similar.
MIKE DAVIS: That's right. Beth?
BETH MAJOR: Gentlemen, thank you all. We would like to open it up for questions.
Q. I wonder whether either of you at any time in the last few holes of the two events that you were talking about, did any part of you feel any kind of sympathy for what you were doing to the great men you were playing with, or are you simply so intent upon what you were doing that all other thoughts are shut out?
BILLY CASPER: Did you hear that, Jack?
MIKE DAVIS: He asked if you ever felt that you had any sympathy for Hogan that you were beating him in the last few holes of it.
JACK FLECK: Well, I don't know about that. I felt I was playing pretty solid and I had the ability, the lord gave me the ability to get keyed up, as everyone does. But I could hit it very, very accurate and I hit, oh so many shots, hitting those narrow fairways, in '55, right here, I thought it was the greatest golf course in the world. But when I first heard this rumor here about a year or so ago, that they're going to cut down all the trees here at. I thought, goodness sakes, they might as well go out and build a place in the desert then and have another golf course.
No, but I was fortunate to do the playing at that time and I've read a lot about it, that I out‑Hogan Hogan. So I had ‑‑ there was no time at all that I felt scared or under pressure or whatnot coming down to the wire. So I would not have been able to do what I did accomplish on the last round and particularly the last nine holes.
BILLY CASPER: You know, we play to win. And when you're out there in the middle of the golf course, no matter who it is across from you, you want to beat them. And if you don't have that attitude, you're never going to make it as a professional golfer. It didn't make any difference whether it was Arnold Palmer or who, I wanted to beat that player at the end of the round.
Consequently, I won a number of tournaments in playoffs. And I really felt that I had the advantage because I was extremely strong, maybe it was because of the way I lived my early life in which I had to take care of myself and be my own Master's so to speak.
When a situation presented itself, you wanted to take advantage of it. And you thrive on that opportunity. You wait for that opportunity to happen. And then go ahead and do it. After it was over, then you felt what you talked about. But not during the last few holes.
Q. Mr. Casper, wondering with 52 PGA TOUR victories, do you ever feel sometimes like maybe that you're not necessarily not talked about enough but maybe sometimes overlooked when we make a big deal about Watson's 39 or Phil's 40 or so for the that maybe you would like to raise your hand and say, well, 52 over here, you know, that kind of thing?
BILLY CASPER: This is one of the things that comes out in the book. That I really never understood what I was doing. I never paid any attention. I wanted to make a good check each week. I wanted to play my best. And at the end of the week, if I knew that I had played my best then I had to be satisfied with it is whether I finished first or whether I finished 10th. But that was the important thing was to make a check.
I spent four years in the Navy and I made $54.50 every two weeks. So when I came on the TOUR, and I made $33.33 in my first tournament Tiger for 30th money spot, man, that was a bonanza compared to $54.50 every two weeks.
As our children grew, our family grew, that was my goal was to make enough money to take care of that family. Statistics didn't mean a thing to me. Winning did. But being able to play week in and week out good solid golf. It's very interesting, I didn't know it at the time, but from '58 through '68 I finished out of the top four money winners only one time the. I didn't know that.
Q. For Jack, obviously Hogan was your idol, you made that pretty clear in the books and the stories over the years. What was it like facing him in a playoff? I'm guessing most of the fans were hugely behind Ben and didn't know much about you and you're playing against a guy that you had idolized.
JACK FLECK: Well, Ben Hogan was my idol since caddie days. But it continued, even if you're talking about the playoff, he was a fabulous individual. He was very respectful. He was a great player and he was practically ‑‑ Gene Littler, I played with him, he was the first one to congratulate me, shake hands, and there was Ben Hogan, the next one there. And he was a fabulous, fabulous man. And he treated me, I almost say sometimes that he treated me as if I was a long lost son. Because Ben Hogan was so ‑‑ I don't understand some of the times that I heard remarks that they thought Ben Hogan was too rough and too insincere about some of the things. But he might have been, he was a man that came up the tough way. I know what it was myself from my started caddying, not caddying, I'm sorry, I made a mistake there, but I started figuring out what golf was in a way at five years of age. Not on a golf course or anything else, but I tried to make a little income and I made income in pennies and nickels and dimes. And it went to my mother.
So golf was different to me. I was very fortunate I found it out. We could go to the country club and carry a golf bag and make .45. That was big money.
So Ben Hogan was, to me, a great man, great personality. Now he had the tough life, very tough, I guess some of them know what happened to his father, but I just think that I liked him right straight through after the win. He treated me wonderful, even was the first one to shake my hand, outside of Gene Littler.
BILLY CASPER: See I can go right along with that, Hogan was my idol also. Isn't that interesting? You have two players here from the past, their idol was Ben Hogan. From the first time I met him at Colonial he recognized me and said, Billy, you've been playing some mighty fine golf and we became friends and we had a friendship throughout all his life. Always had an open invitation to come and have lunch with him at Shady Oaks if I had a flight going through Dallas‑Fort Worth that I had a nice lay over. And I must say, I regret that I didn't go and have lunch with him.
Q. Gentlemen, about the golf course and sort of your recollections of the golf course. Do you feel, in thinking back to it, does it favor a particular type of shot or certain shape of shot off the tee.
JACK FLECK: Well, there's no doubt about it. When I first got here and I arrived and I played in the afternoon on Saturday and every day that I got into the locker room and I want to say, did you play in '55?
BILLY CASPER: No, I just got out of the Navy then.
JACK FLECK: Oh. Anyway, I got out of the Navy in less than two weeks and I was on the winter tour with Joe and Jim Brown and you know what I shot my first round? 93. And I was on the winter tour.
But anyway, going back to the subject, I really thought that the golf course, as I started playing it and everybody said, don't play any more than one round, you'll never be able to get it in the fairway, it's so narrow. And then when you got it in the deep rough you wouldn't be able to get it out, the only thing you could do is get it back in the fairway.
But I played then, outside of that extra hole, the 8th hole came up to the clubhouse, I played two and a half rounds on Sunday, I played two and a half rounds on Monday, I played two and a half rounds on Tuesday, and I only played 36 holes on Wednesday.
That let's you know that I really liked the golf course. It was right up my alley. Because you had to hit it straight and control the ball.
I putted very good for me, excellent for, far better putting than I had ever done before or since. I got the putting at the last part that I thought that I could putt pretty fair, but that was the end of the ball game by that time.
MIKE DAVIS: What are your recollections of how the golf course played and did it favor a certain shot in '66?
BILLY CASPER: You know, I played a practice round on Monday and that was the first time I had played it in tournament conditions. I had stopped here when I was in the Navy and played here 18 holes a number of years before and had the opportunity to play at Stanford that same day, so I played two really great golf courses.
But as I came here on that Monday and played my first practice round, it was a golf course that fit my eye, it fit the way I played. There was no preference on either shot because you had so many holes that had doglegs right, you had so many holes that you had doglegs left and you had so many holes where the fairway sloped from right‑to‑left and holes where you had the fairway slope from left‑to‑right.
It required good stroke making to be able to play the golf course. And it was interesting, it really fit my eye, fit my game. And the fascinating thing of that Open was that there were 15 scores shot under 70 and I just happened to have four of them. So you might say that I was playing pretty well then.
MIKE DAVIS: Was your normal shot a draw or fade?
BILLY CASPER: I could do either one. And like Jack said, you needed to keep the ball in the fairway. If you didn't keep the ball in the fairway, the rough was such, we didn't have any days like this in '66 like we have today where the moisture was out of the rough. We had the moisture in the rough every day because we had overcast days. And you had to be very careful in what club you selected out of the rough, as what happened to Arnold at 16 when he tried to hit a long iron out of the rough after hitting a bad pull hook that hit a tree and bounced down into an area where nobody had been.
He gambled with a long iron and he only moved it about 50 or 60 yards into another set of rough that was extremely heavy and he had to use a long or he had to use a well lofted club to get it back in the fairway. So it was a key to keep the ball in the fairway and then when you mishit it, to make sure you got it back in the fairway with a lofted club, so that you could get still to the green the next shot.
Q. For Billy and Jack and Mike as well, you're both won in playoffs. In retrospect would you prefer to have had a sudden death playoff and continued to play and Mike is there any thought of changing that format to sudden death?
JACK FLECK: I think that an 18-hole playoff for a, at least a championship than, no doubt, a sudden death playoff hole by hole. No, I think that you should have at least an 18 hole playoff.
And as a matter of fact, you can check your scores in 1955 and they will dictate pretty well what the golf course is like. Hogan and I tied at 287. Second place was five shots behind, Snead and Bolt. Then there's one shot after that. So the separation of the scores dictate what the conditions of the golf course was and what made it score so high. There's no doubt about it.
And I just happened to like the golf course. All my golf that I played in practice where everybody said, don't play anymore than one round, I loved it, I just kept on playing. I loved to go out there and play it.
MIKE DAVIS: What are your thoughts on a 18-hole playoff Billy?
BILLY CASPER: I think a Major Championship should be decided by an 18 hole playoff. Mainly because a sudden death playoff, something strange can happen, like a ball that is going out of bounds hits a tree and bounces back in and that person wins the tournament. I just believe that you're going to get the best champion that week, the player that's playing the best in a 18 hole playoff and you might have one lucky shot determine a sudden death playoff. And I've always felt that way.
I think all the Major Championships should be that way.
MIKE DAVIS: Well, just to, since you asked, the USGA has looked at this issue time and time again and time and time again we conclude exactly what Billy just said, that we think that it's a National Open Championship and it deserves an 18 hole playoff. We do believe that by, with 18 holes you really do determine the better champion.
And I was recently with Colin Montgomerie and we started talking about the 1994 U.S. Open when we had three players playing in it, Ernie Els and Loren Roberts and him. If we had had sudden death we would have had one player, if you had a three or four hole playoff you would have had another player, and with 18 you had Ernie Els win.
And I think that, while it's not necessarily real convenient for television or the on‑site spectators or vendors or even the officials, I do think when it's all said and done that we believe that this week is more than just entertainment. This is about determining a national champion, it's making history, and 18 holes is still the best way to do it.
Q. But you do go to sudden death after the 18.
MIKE DAVIS: We do, yes, if we're tied after 18 holes. We used to play another 18 after that. But we have bent on that one.
BILLY CASPER: Mike, can I put a little something in here?
MIKE DAVIS: Yes, please.
BILLY CASPER: The U.S. Senior Open at Hazeltine, Rod Funseth and I played and we were tied after 18. So we went to sudden death. And I birdied the first hole. So I won the U.S. Senior Open in 19 holes. So.
MIKE DAVIS: That's right. That's great.
BILLY CASPER: I want to go back to that question. Years ago they used to have 36 holes in the playoff, didn't they?
MIKE DAVIS: That's exactly right. Yeah, and if ‑‑ that's exactly right. So it was a 36 hole playoff. And then I believe if you were still tied then you went to an 18 hole playoff. So we could, you would be staying a long time if that happened.
Q. Mr. Fleck, I was just curious, for Mr. Fleck, I remember you wrote the Jack Fleck Story, your own book, but I was just curious now in 2012 that have been two books written about you, how that makes you feel and if you, that after all these years, people are understanding exactly who you are and what you did in 1955.
MIKE DAVIS: He brought up the fact that you had your own book and since then there's been a couple more books written about your career and he really just wanted your thoughts on how you feel about that looking back on Jack fleck and your wonderful golf career.
JACK FLECK: Well, what was the last part?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, you had written a book yourself.
JACK FLECK: Yes, Jack Fleck's Story.
MIKE DAVIS: That's right. And then there's been a couple more since then written about you and Doug just wanted to know how you felt about that and looking back and your career and knowing that there's been a few books written on you.
JACK FLECK: Well, I think most of them, the one that they wrote, The Longest Shot, I have read that and there's nothing in there that I have found ‑‑ as a matter of fact, the writer made the deal and agreed that he would write it, I don't want any fabrications, I don't want any magnifying, I don't want to exaggerate the actual things that happened in the tournament, I would help you. So that part I liked. And there's been some other ones that maybe I didn't think too much of and there's many that I probably haven't read yet, but there's too much things ‑‑ I know there's one tournament I played in in the U.S. Open and the man hit it and he hit a heavy shot and it dropped in the cavity area of a creek, a small creek.
And he walked up and looked it over and everything else and he couldn't see it, so he dropped a ball. And then the gallery looked down the cavity of the creek and everything and they said, it's on the grass over there. And so he had his caddie jump down, yeah, yeah, you can play it. So he picked up the ball. I said to the guy I was playing with, is he quitting? But he knocked it on the green. I don't know if they gave him a one shot penalty or a two penalty.
So there's a lot of incidents sometimes that the rulings are not as fair as they should be or not interpreted as they should have been looked at before they make their decisions.
But they do a great job, listen, I think it's very, very difficult, because you're playing out there in the native part, in the wilderness in a lot of places, so it's very difficult to make a ruling so fast. But I think all in all it's very, very good.
Q. We spoke three or four years ago and you were trying to get in touch with Tiger to straighten out his driving. Did you ever get in touch with Tiger and by the way, he'll be in here in about an hour if you're still giving lessons.
MIKE DAVIS: His question was, a few years ago apparently you were going to get a hold of Tiger Woods and offer him some advice on helping him with his driving. And Doug's question is, did you ever succeed in that and if you didn't, he'll be in here in about, Tiger will be in here in about an hour and perhaps you can help him out then.
JACK FLECK: Yes, he turned me down, my representative down. And well, I do not want to get into it and I do not, I have my own years of studying the game. When I wrote my book and everything else, I had accumulated information and things that I thought for years before when I started as a caddie all the way up until the time there. Because I think that there, they do as great a job as possible, but there's some actual things that can be straightened out and they hold the rules to where it should be as it was advised. So anyway, it's still a game, remember that. All right.
Q. Question for both of you. You both had remarkable comebacks to get into a playoff against two of the best players of your generation. I'm wondering what your mindset was like going into the playoff? Did you feel like you might have had any kind of psychological edge given what had happened on Sunday or in the final round?
BILLY CASPER: Well, you know, like I said before, you play to win. And any time I'm in a playoff I felt that I had the advantage, because I had eliminated 155 players. I had eliminated the field, 155 or 160 players. Now, no, not 160, but 154. And I just felt that I had the chance in the playoff.
And, consequently, I had a fairly good playoff record down through the years. I enjoyed that atmosphere of a playoff. And you always wondered how you were going to handle it when you first got into a playoff.
The more you were in a playoff, the more you felt at ease in a playoff.
MIKE DAVIS: Jack, so the question was, what was your mindset going into the playoff and knowing that you had birdied a few of the last holes to tie Hogan who I think Hogan, in his mind and certainly others, thought he had already won. What was your mindset going into that 18 hole playoff?
JACK FLECK: Well, I was very thrilled at myself that I was able to come in and tie to get in that. So naturally I would be very interested in the playoff and be very thrilled that I had made it.
But I think Ben Hogan, even his personality and his attitude and everything else, he was very, very nice to me. And not that there was anything that there ever was involved, but if I played well ‑‑ see I was one time 3‑up on Ben, you know. And I missed a real little putt on I think it was 17. And he got to only one stroke back.
So unfortunately, Ben, I know at the momentum I seen it, he pulled out a driver on 18 and it went through the back of my mind, no, Ben, no. Because I practiced hitting so many balls and each time I played there on the 18th hole I knew a hundred percent only a 3‑wood. Now someone ‑‑ I could hit it fairly far with a 3‑wood anyway, but I was a little bit more accurate even with a 3‑wood.
But I don't know, I was fairly confident, like I read, somebody in the gallery, they said he out‑Hoganed Hogan. Well I was very cool and calm because myself, because of my record and past record of putting, not doing very well previously, and my mental attitude was not very good. I had to really work on some composure and mental control. And just like this man right here, he's probably got the best of any of them. And it worked my way, it was advantageous that I did get around to playing good in the playoff and did win. I was hoping that I would be in it in 1960, but I didn't putt very well there.
BETH MAJOR: I think we have one last question on the aisle in the back.
Q. Jack and Billy, which of today's players reminds you most of the way Hogan and Palmer held themselves as people and in the style they played the game.
BILLY CASPER: Did I get all of that? I may need a translator for that gentleman. Where are you from?
BILLY CASPER: Wales.
Q. Wales, God's country.
BILLY CASPER: You know, each one of the players have distinct characteristics. Arnold was such a great asset to the TOUR here in the U.S. And Jack Nicklaus came on a few years later and he came on with a great deal of pomp and ceremony because he had had such a great amateur record. And it just carried right over into professional golf. He won the first tournament he played in, which was a U.S. Open, when he beat Palmer at Oakland Hills or not Oakland Hills, but Oakmont in Pennsylvania.
You know, you overlook one of your great players and that's Ballesteros. Ballesteros was such a great player in Europe. He was, I called him the Arnold Palmer of Europe. And those three gentlemen really did a great deal to enhance the game of golf. And each one of us that played during that time you might say our wallet is a little fuller because of them.
MIKE DAVIS: Jack, are there any of today's players that would remind you a little bit of Ben Hogan or Arnold Palmer in terms of how they played or how they carried themselves?
JACK FLECK: Well, there are a lot of, from my observation, as much as I try to watch on television, there are a lot of good young players today. But I really believe that because of the person's, his early life and living in golf and particularly getting introduced to the game of golf and of course I myself feel that most all golfers are over golfed, over instructed. That here's what I ask whenever they want some instructions from me, which I don't give them hardly much at all now, my first 10 or 12 years I used to give instructional instructions with all the mechanics as well as anyone.
But I ask them when they were little babies and when they remember when they were waddling around on the floor and trying to think about getting up and learn to walk, did you ever have lessons to walk? I've never run across any of them any. They never had lessons to walk. That's pretty important too.
So golf is only a more refined to a certain thing, because there's much more than just the mechanics. You can use the mechanics for book writing or some drawings, but not too much when it comes to the personal individual training to, just like all other sports have to have certain amount of actual training. But it's such a great game, but they're doing a wonderful job and I just think that you can't beat the game of golf.
MIKE DAVIS: Jack and Billy, I can't thank you both enough, I know the USGA is so proud to have you both here and so proud that you are our champions and that you've got those gold medals and thank you for your time today and we'll look forward to the rest of the week with you then. Thanks so much.