Jack Burke Jr., one of the most important figures in Texas' illustrious golf past, died Friday in Houston at the age of 100, leaving behind a Lone Star State-sized legacy unmatched anywhere else. .
Golf's oldest living major champion, winner of the 1956 Masters and PGA Championship, founded Champions Golf Club in Houston in 1957 with close friend and Masters champion Jimmy Demaret. Burke still attended the club almost every day, greeting members and overseeing a wide range of professionals. Golfers he has coached include Ben Crenshaw, Phil Mickelson, Hal Sutton, and Steve Elkington.
“His legacy is what keeps the game going,” his wife, Robin Burke, said Friday.
In fact, one of the Fort Worth, Texas, residents' favorite sayings has come to be known as “Barkey-ism”: “Never forget that golf pro stands for just promoter. Never forget that golf pro stands for promoter. Don't forget.'' That's what we have to do in this game.''
Dallas' Lee Trevino put on a clinic in Hawaii Thursday during a PGA Tour Champions event. He told GOLF.com he mentioned Burke in it.
“Mr. Burke always said, “Hold the club in your left hand when you go for the shot.'' And then when you get to the ball, put your right hand on it and you're off to a good start,” Trevino said. “I told people about it yesterday at the clinic. He must have heard me.”
Trevino added that Burke's death truly marked the end of an era for the legendary Texas golf pro or those who lived through the golden age of golf.
“Everyone in the golf world is indebted to Jack Burke and the entire Burke family,” he said. “They were instrumental in bringing golf to Texas and gave us Champions Golf Club. Just like Augusta National, when you hear the name you know exactly what it is. I understand.”
Champions, along with Pinehurst Resort, is the only course in America to have hosted the Ryder Cup, men's and women's U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, Tour Championship, and PGA Tour events. Burke has overseen every famous shot ever hit at Champions, including his close friend Ben Hogan's final round on the PGA Tour.
He was known as golf's ultimate straight shooter, and Sutton once said, “If you don't really want to know what he thinks, don't ask.”
Trevino said Burke's sharp sense of humor is often overlooked.
“One night, after America's win in Brookline, we were at the Ryder Cup captain's dinner in Dallas and Jackie got up and spoke,” Trevino said. “I was on his left and Crenshaw was on his right. He stands up and says, 'Ben, what did you do?' [at Brookline] It was a greater miracle than the Biblical bread and two fish. ”
Tiger Woods wasn't immune to Burke's wit either. Due to limited space, Masters champions will pair up in the Champions Locker Room at Augusta National. Burke and Woods share a locker.
Once, Burke left a note for his locker mate asking him to leave extra bills for the elderly.
“Nothing,” Burke said. “That's not true.”
Mickelson, another of Burke's targets, once came to Champions to ask Burke to help him putt. Burke told him to make 100 putts in a row from under 4 feet and come pick him up when he was done.
Mickelson scoffed at the idea, saying Burke could do it while standing there. The steak bet ensued. When Mickelson missed his fourth putt, Burke simply turned around and went to his office.
In addition to being a Ryder Cup player, captain, and assistant to the 81-year-old Sutton, Burke had 19 professional wins. He also won the Vardon Trophy and was a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“He was just one of a kind,” said an emotional Trevino. “He really was. It's great that so many new people are coming to golf and they have no idea who he was or what he did. He's a legend in every sense of the word. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.”