If you’re like a lot of golfers, you know that a relatively unknown club pro beat Ben Hogan in a playoff for the U.S. Open sometime in the early 1950’s. Maybe you know that the unknown pro was Jack Fleck, and you might know it was the 1955 Open, but I’ll bet dollars to donuts you don’t know much about Jack Fleck or how the tournament played out. Run out and remedy your woeful ignorance by reading The Longest Shot, by Neil Sagebiel.
The book is a fun read, and is made particularly interesting by the coming Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco. The 1955 Open and Fleck’s stunning upset was at Olympic. Reading the book with the USGA 2012 Championship Preview or the June issue of Golf Digest handy gives you a “you are there” feeling. Sagebiel gives a blow-by-blow account of the playoff, and it’s fun to read the hole descriptions and look at the course maps as you follow the players around the course. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I’m looking forward to how the book will give me added perspective as I watch this year’s Open.
The Longest Shot is well written, and is in the tradition of books such as The Match, by Mark Frost. In fact, you’ll meet some of the same folks in both books, including Hogan, Byron Nelson, Harvie Ward, and Eddie Lowery. As is true of the best sports books, you’ll come away from The Longest Shot with a good sense of the players as people, not just competitors on the field of battle.
The book doesn’t end with Fleck’s victory. The last several chapters cover Fleck’s career up to the present time, including his victory in the 1979 Senior PGA Championship. Sagebiel gathered much of his information through personal contact with Fleck and many of his contemporaries; I envy Neil for the fun he must have had as a caddie and in the dining and locker rooms at Champions Tour events. The fun and respect show in his writing.
If you’re interested in golf history and want to enrich your experience of the coming U.S. Open at Olympic, this book will be a valuable addition to your library.
(Note: Neil Sagebiel is not only the author of The Longest Shot, but he also blogs at The Armchair Golf Blog. I received a complimentary copy of the book.)