Jack Burke Jr., a top PGA Tour player in the postwar years who won two major golf championships in one season and then became a sought-after teacher to some of golf's biggest stars, has died at the age of 100. He was the oldest living player to win the Masters and PGA Championships.
The United States Golf Association confirmed his death. The Associated Press said he died Friday in Houston.
Burke's highlight year was 1956, when he won both the Masters and PGA titles and was named PGA Golfer of the Year.
His Masters victory surprised almost everyone.
Just weeks earlier, the 33-year-old Burke had announced he was considering retirement after going winless since the Inverness Open in Ohio in 1953. And heading into the final round at Augusta National Golf Club, he was eight shots behind Masters leader Ken Venturi and hadn't drawn much attention.
All eyes were on Venturi, who at 24 was vying to become the first amateur to win the Masters. But as Venturi faltered, Burke moved up the leaderboard, passing eight players and winning by one.
He had received meteorological assistance.
“I had a downhill putt on the 17th hole that was lightning fast, and it got even faster because the wind was blowing sand onto the green at 40 miles per hour,” Burke told Golf Digest in 2004. “I just touched the putt and immediately thought, 'Oh no, I didn't make it halfway.' Then the wind grabbed the thing and blew it further down the hill until it was dead in the middle of the hole landed. It was a miracle – the best breakthrough of my career.”
In June of that year, he won the PGA Championship, defeating Jack Kroll at Blue Hill Country Club in Canton, Massachusetts, in match play format, which is based on holes won in a head-to-head duel rather than the number of strokes on a scorecard.
In total, Burke won 16 tournaments on the Professional Golfers' Association of America tour, including four in four weeks in 1952.
Burke, the son of a Houston golf pro, turned pro at 17 and joined the tour at 23. He is considered one of the most promising golfers of his generation.
In 1949, then living in Kiamesha Lake, New York, in Westchester County, he recorded his first professional victory in the Metropolitan Open at his home course, the Metropolis, in White Plains, defeating veteran Gene Sarazen. The victory came 24 years to the day after Burke's father defeated Sarazen in a tournament, as Sarazen Jack Jr. explained ruefully but good-naturedly.
In 1952, after his four straight Tour victories and a second-place finish at the Masters to Sam Snead, Burke was described by Collier's magazine as “golf's new hot shot.” At 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 170 pounds, he could hit 265 yards off the tee and was an excellent putter, and his boyish looks only made him more attractive.
“His curly, slightly auburn hair, blue eyes and occasional shy smile have made him a favorite of female links fans,” the magazine wrote, calling Burke “one of golf’s most eligible bachelors.”
In 1957, Burke founded Champions Golf Club in Houston with his mentor Jimmy Demaret, the first three-time Masters champion. Demaret was an assistant pro under Burke's father since Jack Jr. was ten years old.
Burke and Demaret instituted a membership policy, still in effect, of admitting only golfers with a handicap of 14 or less. “I compare us to Stanford University, Yale or Harvard,” Burke told Golf Digest. “They don’t accept A students, and we don’t accept people with a D average in golf.”
The club hosted the 1969 United States Open and the 2020 US Women's Open Championship, among other events.
Burke later earned accolades as a longtime instructor of Phil Mickelson, Hal Sutton, Steve Elkington and other professionals. In his 70s, Arnold Palmer stopped by for lessons.
Jack Nicklaus once said of Burke: “I can't tell you how many times we were playing golf and he said, 'Jack, how do you want to play from this position?'”
John Joseph Burke Jr. was born on January 29, 1923 in Fort Worth, the oldest of eight siblings, one of whom died young. He grew up in Houston, where his father, who had finished second in the 1920 U.S. Open, was a professional at River Oaks Country Club.
Jack Jr. played his first game of golf at age 6. At age 12, he shot a 69 on a difficult par-71 course. At 16 he qualified for the US Open. But at 17, at his mother's urging, he entered the Rice Institute (now Rice University) in Houston. However, he left before completing his freshman year and became head professional at Galveston Country Club.
When World War II broke out, Burke joined the Marine Corps and taught combat conditioning, including judo. After the war, he joined the PGA Tour (which officially became the PGA Tour in 1968), moved to Westchester, and also taught golf at clubs in New Jersey and elsewhere in New York.
He first gained widespread attention in 1951 when he recorded two commanding victories in the Ryder Cup competition that same year. This led to him being selected for four more Ryder Cup events in the 1950s, where he compiled a 7-1 record against his European competition. He captained the Ryder Cup twice, losing in 1957 and winning in 1973.
In 1952 he won the Vardon Trophy, awarded to the tour leader in points average. (His score was 70.54.) When Burke was 81, Hall Sutton, the 2004 United States Ryder Cup captain, named him assistant captain.
Burke was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000. In 2003, he was selected as the recipient of the PGA Tour's Lifetime Achievement Award and the United States Golf Association's Bob Jones Award. In 2007 he received the PGA Distinguished Service Award.
Burke married Ielene Lang in 1952. She died in the mid-1980s. According to PGA historian Bob Denney, Burke was 60 years old when he met Robin Moran, a novice golfer at the University of Texas, in 1984 on the putting green at Champions Golf Club, where her father had sent her for golf lessons. The couple married in 1987. She was a finalist in the 1997 U.S. Women's Amateur Championship and was inducted into the Texas Golf Hall of Fame.
Burke had a daughter with his second wife and five children with his first, including a son, John J. Burke III, who died in 2017. Complete information about his survivors was not immediately available.
Burke was among the elite by winning two major tournaments in a single season, but by his own admission he would never have a chance at a Grand Slam, as it is now understood, if he won all four, either in a single season or in his career. He missed the cut in the 1956 US Open at Oak Hill Country Club outside of Rochester and never played in the British Open during his career.
Frank Litsky, a longtime Times sportswriter, died in 2018.; William McDonald contributed reporting.