Jack Burke Jr., who won two major golf titles in one season, dies at age 100

Jack Burke Jr., a top player on the PGA Tour in the postwar years who won two major golf championships in a single season and then became a sought-after instructor for some of the game’s biggest stars, died Friday in Houston. He was 100 and the oldest living winner of the Masters and PGA Championships.

A representative of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, who initiated him in 1978, confirmed the death.

Burke’s peak year was 1956, when he won both the Masters and the PGA title and was named PGA Golfer of the Year.

His victory at the Masters surprised almost everyone.

Just weeks earlier, after not winning a single round since the 1953 Inverness Open in Ohio, Burke, then 33, had announced that he was considering retirement. And going into the final round at Augusta National Golf Club, he was eight strokes behind Masters leader Ken Venturi and hadn’t attracted much attention.

All eyes were on Venturi, who at 24 was aiming to become the first amateur to win the Masters. But when Venturi failed, Burke stepped up to the plate, passed eight players and won by a stroke.

He had received some meteorological assistance.

“I had a downhill putt on the 17th hole that was blazing fast, and it went even faster because the 40 mile an hour wind had blown sand onto the green,” Burke said told Golf Digest in 2004“I just touched that putt and I immediately thought, ‘Oh no, I didn’t get it halfway.’ Then the wind grabbed that thing and kept blowing it down the hill until it crashed right in the middle of the hole. It was a miracle — the best break of my career.”

In June, Burke won the PGA Championship by defeating Ted Kroll at Blue Hill Country Club in Canton, Massachusetts. He did this in match-play format, in which the number of holes won in a head-to-head match is determined rather than the number of strokes on a scorecard.

In all, 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 was considered one of the most promising golfers of his generation.

In 1949, Burke, then living in Kiamesha Lake, N.Y., in Sullivan County, earned his first professional victory, in the Metropolitan Open at his home course, Metropolis Country Club, in White Plains, defeating veteran Gene Sarazen. The victory came 24 years after Burke’s father had defeated Sarazen in a tournament, as Sarazen ruefully but good-naturedly pointed out to Jack Jr.

In 1952, after four consecutive Tour victories and a second-place finish at the Masters, behind Sam Snead, Burke was profiled by Collier’s magazine as “Golf’s New Hot-Shot.” At 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, he could hit 265 yards off the tee and was an excellent putter. His youthful good looks only added to his appeal.

“His curly, light auburn hair, blue eyes and occasional shy smile have made him the darling of female links fans,” wrote the magazine, which described Burke as “one of golf’s most eligible bachelors.”

In 1957, Burke joined his mentor Jimmy Demaret, the first three-time Masters champion, in founding the Champions Golf Club in Houston. Demaret had been an assistant pro under Burke’s father since Jack Jr. was 10.

Burke and Demaret instituted a membership policy — still in effect today — that only admits golfers with a handicap of 14 or lower. “I compare us to Stanford University, or Yale or Harvard,” Burke told Golf Digest. “They don’t accept D students academically, and we don’t accept people with a D average in golf.”

The club hosted the United States Open in 1969 and the US Women’s Open Championship in 2020, among others.

Burke later earned distinction as a longtime instructor of Phil Mickelson, Hal Sutton, Steve Elkington and other pros. In his 70s, Arnold Palmer stopped by for a lesson.

Jack Nicklaus once said of Burke, “I can’t tell you how many times we’d play golf and he’d say, ‘Jack, how are you going to play from that position?'”

John Joseph Burke Jr. was born on January 29, 1923, in Fort Worth, the eldest of eight siblings, one of whom died in infancy. He grew up in Houston, where his father, a runner-up in the 1920 U.S. Open, was a professional at River Oaks Country Club.

Jack Jr. first played golf at age 6. At 12, he shot a 69 on a difficult par-71 course. At 16, he qualified for the U.S. Open. But at 17, at his mother’s insistence, he enrolled in Rice Institute (now Rice University) in Houston. He left before completing his freshman year and became the head pro 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 (it officially became the PGA Tour in 1968), moved to upstate New York, and also taught golf at clubs in New Jersey and New York City.

He first came to prominence in 1951, when he won two convincing victories in that year’s Ryder Cup competition. This led to his selection for four more Ryder Cup events in the 1950s, in which he compiled a 7–1 match record against European opponents. He was twice Ryder Cup captain, losing in 1957 and winning in 1973.

In 1952 he won the Vardon Trophy, awarded to the tour leader in average scoring. (His score was 70.54.) When Burke was 81, Hal Suttonthe 2004 US Ryder Cup captain appointed him assistant captain.

Burke was elected World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000. In 2003, he was chosen 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. He was 60 when he met Robin Moran, a freshman golfer at the University of Texas, on the putting green at Champions Golf Club in 1984, where her father had sent her for a golf lesson, according to the PGA historian Bob DenneyThe couple married in 1987. She was a finalist in the 1997 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship and was also named to the Texas Golf Hall of Fame. She survives him.

Burke had one daughter with his second wife and five children with his first, including a son, John J. Burke IIIwho died in 2017. Complete information about his surviving relatives was not immediately available.

Burke joined the elite by winning two majors in a single season, but by his own choice he would never have a shot at a Grand Slam, as it is understood today, by winning all four, either in a single season or in a career. He missed the cut at the 1956 U.S. Open at Oak Hill Country Club outside Rochester, and he never played in the British Open.

Frank Litsky, a veteran sportswriter for the Times, died in 2018. William McDonald and Sofia Poznansky contributed reporting.

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