Jack Burke Jr., renowned for his prowess on the PGA tour in the years following World War II, and celebrated for clinching two major golf titles in a single season, passed away in Houston on Friday.
At 100 years old, he was the longest-living champion of both the Masters and PGA championships.
His legacy extended beyond his playing days, as he became a beloved coach to some of golf’s most eminent figures. His passing was confirmed by a spokesperson from the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, which honored him with induction in 1978.
Renowned for his remarkable skill on the greens and his significant contributions to the sport, Burke left an indelible mark in the history of golf.
Born in 1923 under the Texan sun in Houston, he kicked off his pro golfing journey in the 1940s with a bang. His career was a thrilling ride, peppered with victories and high points, the brightest being his double whammy in 1956 – snagging both the Masters and the PGA Championship.
We are deeply saddened by the passing of Jack Burke Jr., a legend in the sport of golf. pic.twitter.com/DgNxr7eaLf
— PGA of America (@PGA) January 19, 2024
He achieved his inaugural PGA Tour win at the Bing Crosby Pro-Am in 1950, sharing first place with three others in a tie without a playoff. That year, he secured three additional victories and in 1952, he triumphed five times, also earning the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average.
His Masters win was the stuff of legends; he turned the tables with an epic comeback, erasing an eight-stroke deficit to snatch the coveted green jacket right from the jaws of defeat. Off the course, Burke was just as dynamic. Teaming up with golf’s other big name, Jimmy Demaret, he co-founded the Champions Golf Club in Houston in 1957.
“When I won the 1956 Masters, I had a downhill putt on the 17th hole that was lightning quick, and it was made even faster because the 40-mile-per-hour wind had blown sand out onto the green. I just touched that putt, and I immediately thought, Oh, no, I didn’t get it halfway there,” Burk explained to Golf Digest in 2004.
“Then the wind grabbed that thing and kept blowing it down the hill, until it plunked dead in the middle of the hole. It was a miracle, the best break of my career. You better believe wind affects putts. A golf ball weighs 1.62 ounces. Can a 20-mile-per-hour wind affect that ball as it rolls? You tell me.”
The turn of the millennium in 2000 brought a well-deserved nod to Burke’s lasting impact on golf – an induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“Everybody wants to retire early,” Burke Jr. said. “Well, I’ve seen early retirement, and it’s not pretty. These 50-year-old guys hang out at the club constantly, because they have nowhere else to go. They get sick of golf; you never see them smiling when they’re coming up 18. Don’t retire. Leisure time is dangerous. You might wind up inside a bottle of bourbon. You are put on this earth to produce, so get with it.”
“To succeed at golf, you have to master the art of not being embarrassed. It’s incredibly hard to erase thoughts of how you’re going to be perceived by others, and the challenge never ceases,” Burke Jr. once said.
Burke’s wife Robin survives him.