No, Bruce Lietzke didnt win a regular Open. But he won a U.S. Senior Open. He outlasted Tom Watson and Vicente Fernandez, draining the last bit of skepticism from his competitors on the Champions Tour. He opened up a six-stroke lead after an eagle on the front nine, hung on while his slipshod driving and an mini-rally by Watson trimmed the margin to three, then eventually staggered home to win by two shots.
I won a big tournament on an outstanding golf course that was set up brutally, said Lietzke. I thought it was pretty fair, but it was brutal. I am thrilled to death to have won the contest, on this golf course, and to have beaten a player of Tom Watsons caliber.
Watson shot 5-under par, Lietzke 7-under. Watson said he thought if someone shot 5-under, they would have been a dead-lock cinch to win. But credit Lietzkes pluck, his heart, and his good fortune for staving off Watson and Vicinte Fernandez.
Bruce was leaking oil today, said Watson. He didnt hit the ball in the fairway very often today, and I just kept thinking ' but the old engine just wouldnt quit on him. He may have been smoking a little and spewing some oil, but the engine just didnt quit on him.
Thats a tribute to the guts he has to pull it out when hes not playing well.
After Lietzkes eighth-hole eagle propelled him to 10-under while Watson ' his nearest competitor ' was 4-under, it looked like the back nine would be a formality.
But Watson birdied the ninth while Lietzke made bogey, reducing the margin to a four-shot lead. And when Lietzke three-putted the 12th hole for bogey, the margin was cut yet again, to three strokes.
And Lietzke didnt birdie the par-5 13th. The 14th? His tee shot was far in the rough, so far that he landed in trampled-down grass where the gallery had been standing.
Lietzke at that point had hit only four fairways. But he got up-and-down for his par, his putt ringing the cup a couple of times before finally sinking. And on No. 16 he again drove the ball again in the rough, then just barely cleared a bunker en route to the green. However, the ball rolled up to within two feet of the cup for a birdie.
With such adventures, stellar play by an opponent would have put considerable heat on Lietzke. But Watson could never sink a putt to close the gap. So when Lietzke bogeyed the 17th and the 18th, he had enough of a margin where he could limp home a winner.
I was pretty fortunate today, considering the many, many fairways Ive missed, said Lietzke, who hit only 12 of his last 30 fairways. I had swings at the golf ball most of the time.
But that 16th hole, coming out of a pretty hairy lie, barely making it over the bunker, Im sure it bounced in the rough, and then it rolled up two feet from the hole, said Lietzke. Thats crazy ' thats goofy stuff. But I really believe thats how you win major championships. There has never been a major championship winner that had bad luck going for him.
And probably never has there been a major championship winner that had the same feelings for the runner-up.
He has the respect and the admiration of everyone out here, said Lietzke of Watson. The admiration we have for him is second to none. I might put Greg Norman in his class. Their integrity is impeccable.
Lietzke would never be playing this time of year if he werent old enough for his children to be well along in their teen-age years. He was a bachelor when he came out on tour in 1975, and for eight years, golf was his No. 1 priority.
He married in 1981 and his children were born in 83 and 85. And that totally changed his life. It (golf) was my job, but it was probably not in my top five priorities, Lietzke said.
He began the life of fatherhood. My dad was a little league coach on my baseball team, and I was going to be a little league coach if my son decided to play baseball, he said. I really quit playing summer golf entirely.
He gave up the U.S. Open and British Open entirely, since they are contested in June and July. For six years, he coached his sons baseball team in those months.
He (Lietzkes son) turned to junior golf and my daughter started playing softball and I coached her team for about four years. The last few years my son has been playing junior golf and I kind of escorted him around the summer junior schedule.
Actually, it was pretty simple for him. I just didnt believe in dragging my kids ' after they had been in school for an entire year, I didnt think of dragging them around motel rooms for a summer of tour golf, I dont think it was the way they wanted to live and the way I wanted to live.
For that reason, it sounded strange hearing Lietzke say Sunday that Watson should play more golf.
I dont have the nerve to tell him that, coming from somebody like me, he said, laughing at the irony. But he is as happy as Ive ever seen him. And he is spending a lot of quality family time, and Id be the last guy in the world to tell him he needs to come back out and play more golf.
But Ill tell you what ' he has turned that putting thing around. His putting looks fabulous to me ' I think hes third now on the Champions Tour (in putting).
But I think he looks a little rusty in some of the tournaments that Ive seen him play. And that would go away with a little more tournament play. I would never tell him to do that, because he is doing exactly the same thing I was doing 15 years ago. He would be winning more tournaments if he were playing more golf, but Im going to let him make those decisions.
More tournament play, and he becomes the best player on the Champions Tour.
For the week of the U.S. Senior Open, though, there was someone else who was the Champions Tours best player. And that player was Bruce Lietzke.