SAN FRANCISCO — The Masters Tournament showcases its past champions and gives fans a chance to see them in action during practice rounds, the Par-3 Contest and opening ceremony.
The U.S. Open? Not so much.
But Tuesday at The Olympic Club, the U.S. Golf Association brought in Jack Fleck and Billy Casper to talk to the media. The two men are best-known for the U.S. Open triumphs at Olympic more than four decades ago.
Fleck, a little-known pro from Iowa, defeated Ben Hogan in a playoff to capture the 1955 U.S. Open. Casper, a three-time major winner, rallied from seven shots down to beat Arnold Palmer in the 1966 U.S. Open.
That they took down two of the game’s giants, who were both immensely popular, didn’t faze them.
“There was no time at all that I felt scared or under pressure or whatnot coming down to the wire,” Fleck said.
Casper echoed the view.
“You know, we play to win,” said the 1970 Masters champion. “And when you’re out there in the middle of the golf course, no matter who it is from across 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.”
Both men won at Olympic in 18-hole playoffs, and both feel that is the best method to determine a champion. Of the four majors, the U.S. Open is the only one to employ that format.
“I think that you should have at least an 18-hole playoff,” Fleck said.
Casper – the last man to win the Masters in an 18-hole playoff – agreed.
“I just believe that you’re going to get the best champion that week, the player that’s playing the best in an 18-hole playoff and you might have one lucky shot determine a sudden-death playoff,” Casper said. “And I’ve always felt that way.”
USGA executive director Mike Davis confirmed that there are no plans to change the playoff format.
“We do believe that with 18 holes you really do determine the better champion,” Davis said.
At 90, Fleck is the oldest living U.S. Open winner. Although he’s hard of hearing, he is still sharp and not afraid to speak his mind.
He once offered to give Tiger Woods advice on how to drive the ball better.
“He turned me down,” Fleck said.
And, like Casper did in 1966, he almost beat Palmer in a U.S. Open. Fleck finished tied for third in the 1960 U.S. Open, a mere three strokes behind Palmer who famously charged to his only U.S. Open win.
“I missed five little putts,” Fleck said, holding his hands a few inches apart, “and let him win.”