Jack Burke, Jr. will have a 100th birthday party befitting his legendary status
HOUSTON – Jack Burke, Jr., golf’s oldest living Masters and PGA Championship winner, will have his 100th birthday party Sunday befitting his legendary status with some of the golf greats with a personal connection to Burke at the place he founded, Champions Golf Club.
Son Mike Burke, who took over the club from his dad two years ago, organized a party which will include two-time Masters Champion Ben Crenshaw, PGA Championship winner Steve Elkington, teacher Butch Harmon, who was taught the game by Burke, and teacher Jim McLean.
Longtime family friend and Houston Astros owner Jim Crain will be on hand with the Astros World Series trophy and Burke will blow out 100 candles in front of the hundreds of Champions members, family and friends.
Tributes are expected to flow in from all over the golf world, even though most of today’s players never saw him hit a shot and have little, if any, memory of when he dominated the PGA Tour with two major championship wins in 1956, a Vardon Trophy in 1952, and a top 10 U.S. Open finish in 1955 among 19 professional wins and five straight Ryder Cup appearances.
Augusta National Golf Club officials said they plan to acknowledge Burke’s 100th birthday and 1956 Masters win in their Masters Journal program this spring and at the 2023 Tournament. While he can no longer attend the Tuesday champions dinner at Augusta, Burke still shares a locker with five-time winner Tiger Woods, who won the first of his three Tour Championships at Champions.
All to salute the Fort Worth, Texas, native who has impacted the game of golf at every level from student to player to teacher to mentor, Ryder Cup captain and assistant and elite club founder.
Jack Burke Jr. hits from second tee in third round of the 1952 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo: Associated Press)
“Always remember, golf pro is short for promoter, you always have to promote the game,” Burke said among the lessons he’s learned as his enters his 10th decade.
Perhaps no one in golf’s history has done more to promote the game than Burke, who still makes regular visits to his Houston golf club to visit and talk with members and guests and if he feels up to it, uses his cane to come out to the putting green and driving range.
Just don’t ask him for a secret to help your game.
“I don’t give tips, son, tips are for horse races,” he said.
Known for his straight-shooting style, Burke has been telling it like he sees it for nearly 100 years and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
But the tough love approach endeared him to a generation of old school students who have made the trip to Houston to soak up his wisdom and stories. Phil Mickelson once came in and Burke taught him the drill he still uses, making 100 straight putts from four feet and starting over if you miss before 100.
Hal Sutton came for help with his game and mentorship and was so taken by Burke’s style that he named him a Ryder Cup assistant, at age 81, for his captaincy in 2004 at Oakland Hills Country Club.
When the U.S. lost by a historic margin at home with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson being paired together, Burke got off a classic line.
“I told Hal not to pair Tiger and Phil together, but talking to Hal was like talking to General Patton, he won’t listen.”
Still, Sutton is one of his closest friends. Elkington founded a video teaching company, the Secret Golf, named for Burke’s teaching motto – the ‘secret is in the dirt’ – and has been replaying some classic videos this week with Burke teaching timeless golf lessons to honor his friend.
While his playing career was relatively brief, Burke always said his lasting golf contribution was founding Champions Golf Club with good friend and fellow Masters Champion Jimmy Demaret.
Champions, so named by former White House aide Jack Valenti for its two founders, joins Pinehurst as the only clubs in America to have hosted a Ryder Cup, a men’s and women’s U.S. Open, a U.S. Amateur, the Tour Championship and a PGA Tour event.
The difference is while Pinehurst has been overseen by a serious of corporate owners, Burke has been at Champions for every moment of its historic life.
Burke’s father, Jack Burke, Sr., was one of the first-ever Texas golf pros, working at Houston’s River Oaks Country Club after moving down from Philadelphia, while the younger Burke grew up and played with a list of Texas golf legends from Babe Didrikson to Demaret, Byron Nelson and close friend Ben Hogan.
Burke served a brief stint in the Marines before turning to golf full time.
“I don’t know anything but golf. That’s what I’ve done my entire life,” Burke said.
Asked how he would like to be remembered, Burke said simply: “As someone who upheld the amateur game because amateurs are the backbone of the sport and someone who followed the rules.”
Sunday, his friends and fellow golf legends will gather with his wife, former Curtis Cup Captain, Robin, and his family to celebrate a man who has meant as much to American golf as Old Tom Morris meant to the Scots.