This past Friday, I had the opportunity to interview Texas Golf Hall of Fame member and former UH golfer Marty Fleckman. Marty played for the Coogs from 1964-66 during which time the team won three NCAA Championships and he won the NCAA Individual Title in 1965. During the decade of the 1960's the University of Houston Golf Team had a stranglehold on the world of college golf. Between 1960 and 1969, Houston won the NCAA title seven times and finished second twice. In addition to Marty's individual title, three other Coogs won that honor as well during this span. Marty had an incredible year in 1967 when he made the Walker Cup team, reached the quarterfinals of the British Amateur, shot an opening-round 67 at the US Open and lead that tournament after rounds one and three, all as an amateur, and later won his first PGA Tour event in his first start as a professional. Marty is currently Director of Instruction at BlackHorse Teaching Center located at BlackHorse Golf Club in Cypress, Texas. BlackHorse has a state-of-the-art teaching center complete with video analysis, indoor/outdoor teaching bays and sponsors a year-around Junior Golf program as well.
DD – Marty tell us what it was like being a member of the most dominating college golf program in the country?
MF – Well, at that particular time there were not that many strong college golf programs and all the great players went to the University of Houston, as the other college programs started getting better Houston had to start sharing some of those other top high school players with the other schools. Now, when I was going to school, there was no such thing as a four-year scholarship, you were on a semester to semester basis, if you could help the team Coach Williams would give you some help. The way he had it set-up was that if a kid wasn't producing then he wasn't able to help. I fortunately was there four years and I help every semester, but others did not. I was also fortunate enough to be on three national championship teams.
At that particular time, freshman could not participate in varsity sports, so who knows, I could have been in on four national championships. Right after I got out in the late 60's early 70's Coach was forced to start giving out full scholarships because that's what the competition did to try to compete and lure players away from Houston. They still went on to win several more championships after I left to total 16 national titles. It was a wonderful experience and it was the place to go if you wanted to play college golf.
DD – How did it become "the place to go"? Was that just Coach Williams or was it something else?
MF – Well, Coach Williams recruited potentially good players and then he made them better players after they got there. He created an environment whereby if you were not out there hitting balls and playing and working hard everyday you felt like you were falling behind the other players or they were getting just that much more in front of you. He had a tremendous instinct for knowing which players could play what courses and actually perform under pressure, he had a tremendous knack for that. We had players who could win the qualifier, but when they got in the tournament couldn't play. So in time we would take players who couldn't we the qualifier, but could play fairly well on that particular course and contribute to the team.
DD – Coach Williams wasn't really a swing instructor was he?
MF - No, he wasn't, he did some unusual things, but after I left I could see why he was successful at what he did. He had a great feel for each person that he coached and how they could play and contribute on certain golf courses.
One of the other things that he did was that once he knew where the national championship was going to be played, he tried to have us play courses and tournaments that were similar because it was his objective at the start of every season for us to win another NCAA tournament title. Every course, every qualifier was used with idea in mind of preparing for another NCAA championship.
BlackHorse Golf Club
DD – You didn't have a lot of grasses to choose from in this area and differing terrain though, how did that effect the preparations?
MF – If you can play Bermuda grass, you can play any grass. It is hard to go from Rye and Bent to Bermuda, but the transition from Bermuda to Rye or Bent grasses is a lot easier.
DD – Obviously, Coach had the knack for putting great teams together, but in a lot of cases you must have felt like Houston was going to win the next event before even arriving at the tournament site?
MF – Well, you know, success breeds success, the more you win the more you think you can win and so does your opponent. In most cases, at every tournament we had a team where every member could potentially win the tournament.
DD – Was Oklahoma State the main competition back in those days as well?
MF – Yes, it was always Oklahoma State and the University of Houston.
DD – What happened to the program after Coach Williams retired? Do have an opinion or feel as to what might have changed?
MF – Coach Williams was a hands-on guy. At that particular time, all the golfers lived together, practiced together and were a very close-knit group, in time some of that may have changed and perhaps a little bit less of that hands-on approach was used. The talent in all the high schools became much better with the junior programs out there that are operated all over the country, there was just more competition.
DD – There is more parity in college golf or so it seems, do you think that this is a trend that will continue?
MF – Absolutely, because the competition is too great, with all these junior programs out there. The programs that these kids are brought up on these days are just phenomenal.
DD – A lot of Houston fans have been waiting for NCAA Championship #17 for a long time and do not understand why it has been so long in coming.
MF – Well, you have to get some good players and then make them much better players. Coach Williams always got talent in there and created the atmosphere of constant competition even if we were not playing in a tournament. The competition in practices among the players and creating situations where the winners of those competitions would have a chance to start at the next tournament were always present. There are two kinds of players, those who can hit a golf ball, but can't play golf and those who don't necessarily hit it very well, but can play golf. The bottom line is being able to put a number on the scoreboard, you have to have a knack for playing golf and shooting a number, staying organized and being able to manage yourself around a golf course. Some guys can't do that and that is where the coach comes in and must instill those missing qualities in the players he has available to him. The mental strength necessary is something you have to acquire, some golfers may never acquire it. It is all a matter of making good decision and just playing good golf.
DD – I know that you won the Texas State Amateur in 1964, tell us a little about your high school career.
MF – I had a pretty good high school career, I played football basketball and golf, even up to my senior year I played basketball and golf. I made my mind up that I wanted to play golf at 11 when I quit Little League baseball. I'd always been an athlete and in the winter when I was playing less golf so I took up football and played it through junior high and into my freshman year in high school. Fortunately I was never injured, I could have started at cornerback for Port Arthur as a sophomore, but decided to give it up and play basketball instead.
DD – Obviously, you must have had a pretty fair high school career or Coach Williams would have never come calling?
MF – Well yes, I won the Texas State Jaycee title, I played well in the Texas State Junior tournament and won the Texas State Amateur so I had decent credentials.
DD – Do you keep up with UH Athletics?
MF – I try to keep up with the Cougars. I go to a few football games.
DD – The program is going to be much better this year.
MF – They need to be to get everyone fired up.
BlackHorse Teaching Center
DD – Tell me a about your BlackHorse Teaching Center and how that's going for you.
MF – We have a great facility with a 36-hole daily fee golf club 2,000 square foot teaching facility with two indoor/outdoor hitting bays, a classroom and offices here. We have one of the finest facilities in this part of the country. As a result of that we are able to offer various programs for golfers of all levels. I put a lot of emphasis on the Junior Golf program we have a great Junior program here. We have a year-around Junior program here designed for kids from 5 to 13 years of age. The reason we have it year-around is because it keeps the kid's momentum going. We have about 14-15 different programs here with a terrific staff and we try to emphasize quality instruction that's our basic principle here. As Director of Instruction, it is up to me to make sure that each student here gets the kind of instruction necessary for them to improve their scoring ability and enjoyment of the game. I'm responsible for the instructors knowing what to teach and how to teach it as well.
DD – Tell me a little about your PGA Tour career? I know that you won the first professional event that you entered.
MF – I won my first tournament coming out of the PGA Qualifying school, it happened to be the last tournament of 1967 the Cajun Classic which made me exempt for 1968. As an amateur I had led the US Open after the first and third rounds and in '68 as a professional I did the exact same thing at the PGA Championship in San Antonio at Pecan Valley eventually losing to Julius Boros after I bogeyed three of the last five holes. I played the tour for 13 years, I left at the end of 1980 and got into teaching.
DD – What about the PGA Senior Tour? Wasn't it just getting started about that time?
MF – I was not exempt and would have had to go to the SPGA Qualifying School. See, I left the tour when I was 36, the money had not really started to kick-in until after I left. The most we ever played for was $200,000, now they are playing for a million a week. Because of this my total money wasn't high enough and the fact that I quit at such an early age, my daughter was going through college, she wanted to go to law school, so I had to raise my priorities, I could not afford to try to make a living, work on my game, prepare for the Senior Tour, I just couldn't do it, my main source of revenue was teaching.
DD – I know that you had the Golf Getaway business going are you still arranging these golf outings?
MF – Yeah, I usually take a group to The Masters every year, I'm taking a group to Michigan in August, I'm taking another group to the Pebble Beach/Monterrey Peninsula area in October and a group to Bermuda in November. As you can see, I do about three or four of those a year.
DD – In your teaching here do you stress anything in particular?
MF – Not really, we stress the fundamentals, every student that comes to our facility has talent, it is up to us as instructors to develop that talent and channel it properly. Having been a player and understanding what goes on as you make that 100-yard hike from the range to the first tee, my main objective is to lower each students scores, it is a waste of his time if I can't get them to perform on the golf course otherwise he is going to say that I have not helped him.
DD – I understand that Byron Nelson helped you with your game, how did that take place?
MF – Well, when I was at the University of Houston by my sophomore year I had never had a golf lesson. Coach Williams knew Byron Nelson and Coach knew that I wanted to be a good player, a great player in fact, so he made contact with Byron and arranged for us to meet. I developed a relationship with Byron Nelson that lasted eight or nine years. Byron helped me when I won the NCAA Championship, he helped me when I led the National Open as an amateur and he helped me when I almost won the PGA Championship as a professional. He really helped me with my short game and managing myself around the golf course. Byron really helped me to learn how to play golf.
DD – Speaking of players of that era, did you ever get a chance to play with, my hero, Ben Hogan?
MF – Yes, I played with him in '66 at Champions Golf Club in a practice round for the Champions International Golf Tournament.
DD – Wasn't that Hogan's last professional event?
MF – Yes, a friend of his lived on the ninth hole on the Cypress Course and invited me to join Ben for a practice round.
DD – That must have been a real treat to have played golf with Hogan?
MF – It was, I wish that I had paid more attention to his swing, but I was so enamored with just playing with him that I didn't observe as much as I should have it was a real emotional high.
I want to thank you for spending this time with me and I'm sure that all of out readers at CoogFans.com will really appreciate the insight that you have provided here. You are one of the all-time great names in Cougar athletics and I feel privileged to have had this opportunity, thanks again.
Eat ‘Em Up!