FREED BY ADRENALIN
Some 40 minutes later, Hogan, pelting the short 13th, went one over par, to cut his lead over Snead to two strokes. Immediately on top of this, he faded his drive on the 14th, a long par four, into the five-inch rough. The decisive action in the Hogan-Snead duel then took place. After chilling his rooters by taking a four-wood from his bag, Ben played his finest shot of the round. Hitting the ball with a slight cut, he swatted it out of the grass and on a dead line for the center of the green some 210 yards away. The ball hit on the upslope to this hilltop green, bounded up between the two flanking bunkers and expired some 20 feet from the hole. Almost simultaneously, the report came through that Snead had bogeyed both the 16th and the 17th. Hitting the ball with a freer action and more juice as the adrenalin released by the prospect of winning raced through his system, Ben finished with a birdie and three stalwart pars for a 70. He walked off the 72nd green, the apparent victor, to one of the greatest and most honestly earned acclamations in the history of a game which will go a long time indeed before it knows another champion of his stature.
And then along came Fleck.
The story of the play-off really began on the 6th hole. One stroke ahead at this point, Fleck had not played a bad shot. It is not unfair to the new champion to say that everyone in the gallery wondered when he would make his first error and what effect this would have on him. Well, he pulled his approach on the 6th, a par four measuring 437 yards, into the trap to the left of the green. He followed this with a rather loose recovery 25 feet past the pin. He then proceeded to knock the putt into the hole, and his errors had hurt him not at all. On the short eighth, after Hogan had rolled in a 50 footer for a deuce, the amazing Mr. Fleck coolly rolled in his eight footer for his deuce. The gallery had hardly digested this when he holed another long one for a birdie on the 9th, this one from about 25 feet. By this time everyone was almost conditioned to the fact that Fleck might hole anything, and on the very next green he holed still another. This one, however, was a mere 18 footer.
INTO THE PATCH
After this, Fleck holed no long ones, but this staggering putting spree had put him three under par and three strokes up on Hogan. It proved to be a sufficient cushion. Summoning all his heart and skill, Hogan fought back to chop one stroke off Fleck's lead with a birdie on the 14th, to chop off another with a fine four on the 17th. Now, with the positions of the previous day reversed, as it was, with Hogan needing to pick up one stroke on Fleck on the 18th, Ben just couldn't make it. He had no chance, in fact, after his drive. He hooked it into the foot-high rough, into an exceptionally healthy patch that all but obscured the ball. It took Ben three strokes to reach the fairway, one to uncover the ball, another to budge it three feet, a third to punch it laterally to the fairway. Both men finished like champions. Hogan holed a 25-foot downhiller. Fleck played a perfect four.
Perhaps all of us who saw this playoff can appreciate a bit better now how it felt to be at Brookline in 1913 when another complete unknown—the name was something like Ouimet—defeated the peerless Harry Vardon and that other contemporary giant, Ted Ray, in that historic Open play-off. This too, some 42 years later, was quite an afternoon, and the new champion, Jack Fleck, revealed himself to be quite a golfer.