SAN ANTONIO – Bruce Lietzke understands the uncertainty that most players feel when a tournament moves to a new course, especially ones put together by Pete Dye.
The Champions Tour will move its AT&T Championship to the famed architect’s new TPC course next year in San Antonio, which means Lietzke and a field that includes Charles Schwab Cup leader Bernhard Langer will get one last shot at victory at Oak Hills Country Club this week.
“This became one of my favorite golf courses,” Lietzke said. “Just a golf atmosphere here. No condos left and right. There was always a hole in my resume because I didn’t win here.”
Defending champion Phil Blackmar and Kenny Perry, who tied for 35th in his Champions Tour debut a week ago, also are scheduled to play at Oak Hills. Seven of the Schwab Cup’s top 10 have entered the final stop before the season finale next week at Harding Park in San Francisco.
Also in the mix is U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin, who led through the first two rounds last week at the Administaff Small Business Classic before finishing fifth.
Oak Hills is being retired as a tour venue after nine years of Champions Tour events. There were another 23 years when Oak Hills was the site of the PGA Tour’s Texas Open, and even another year when the event that became known as the Tour Championship was conducted there.
Oak Hills has long been a favorite among Champions Tour players who also played here during the PGA Tour’s Texas Open until 1994, which is now played at the Greg Norman design at TPC.
Oak Hills is a 6,735-yard layout designed by A.W. Tillinghast, made cozy among century-old trees. Former winners are particularly fond of it, and Texas Open champions Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin, Corey Pavin, Mark O’Meara, Nick Price, Jay Haas and Blaine McCallister are entered for this week.
Trevino has been a vocal critic of the move away from Oak Hills.
“I ain’t playing no TPC,” Trevino said when the move was announced.
Lietzke assisted Dye on the design work at the TPC course. Lietzke said he gained a great amount of respect for Dye, who also laid out the bunker-ridden Whistling Straits that bedeviled Dustin Johnson this year at the PGA Championship.
But Lietzke formerly was in that group of players who had a hard time figuring out Dye. He once said that a rocky outcropping that Dye designed beyond a green could be mistaken for the San Diego Zoo – if only a polar bear were added.
“I’m happy to say I never got fined in all my years on the PGA Tour, and that was the closest I ever came to being fined,” Lietzke said. “I got in trouble.”
When Lietzke was a young player on the PGA Tour in the late ’70s, he became one of the first to take a shot at Dye’s controversial work when Preston Trail was the site of the Byron Nelson Classic. Lietzke, who had taken the first-round lead, said he was only repeating the line about the polar bear after he heard it from fellow player John Schroeder.
“I threw that line out there,” Lietzke said, “and you don’t get booed on the PGA Tour, but I could hear some boos and hisses. Then I went on to win the tournament. I probably wasn’t the most popular champion.”