John “Jack” Joseph Burke Jr. won 17 times on the PGA Tour, including two majors in 1956 – the Masters and PGA Championship – earning him Player of the Year honors. In 1952, he won four tournaments in a row, along with the Vardon Trophy, which is awarded for low scoring average. He played on five Ryder Cup teams during the 1950s, captained twice and hosted another at his own course.
Burke died on Friday at the age of 100.
While still at the peak of his abilities, he retired from the Tour and built one of the country’s first golf-only clubs – Champions Golf Club in Houston – with his former childhood babysitter and closest friend, fellow World Golf Hall of Famer Jimmy Demaret.
Burke grew up on River Oaks Country Club in Texas during the Great Depression, where his father, Jack, served as the first club pro in the state’s history and mentored the likes of Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Jack Grout and Harvey Penick. Young Jackie suffered from asthma and couldn’t play other sports so at age 7 he began sitting and listening at the feet of his father, who is himself a member of the Texas Golf Hall of Fame.
By age 12, Burke Jr. could break par and a year later gave his first lesson to John P. Fusler, who paid him $350 when Burke helped lower his scores from 100 to 85.
“He thought I was the greatest teacher in the world, but all I was doing was relating what I had heard at the dinner table,” Burke told the USGA’s Golf Journal in 1995.
He landed a job as a teaching professional at Galveston Country Club in Houston before he turned 20, and would later hold jobs at Hollywood Golf Club in New Jersey and Metropolis Country Club in New York. One time, in the company of Demaret and his golf buddy Bob Hope, the comedian innocently asked Burke, “What do you do?”
“I’m a golf professional,” Burke answered.
“Where?” Hope asked. “At Boys Town?”
The finest hour as a player for “the pro from Boys Town,” as Burke was affectionately called, may have been the final round of the 1956 Masters, which is still widely considered to be the toughest conditions of cold, wind and rain in tournament history. Somehow, Burke held it together against the elements to shoot 71 and erase an eight-stroke deficit as amateur Ken Venturi ballooned to an 80.
“He handed me the trophy,” said Burke, overlooking the fact that he tied for the low round of the day to finish at 1-over 289, still tied for the highest winning score in tournament history. “I thank…