Fully Committed, Lietzke Looking To Defend
By Ken Klavon, USGA
St. Louis, Mo. – Question one. With a free pass to play in this year's U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, how many players would say thanks, but no thanks? Question two. After winning a major championship, how many players would waffle on whether to defend? Answers: very few and not many.
Yet Bruce Lietzke, winner of last year's Senior Open at Inverness, did both. That's because, at a time in his career when golf is nothing more than a four-letter word, the 52-year-old muscle car buff learned a long while ago about priorities and how to put things in perspective.
In the early 1980s as his success on the PGA Tour leveled off, marriage and having kids simplified his objectives. Less tournaments combined with more devotion to the home life made golf secondary. By 1988, he would play in no more than 25 events a year.
Daughter Christine's imminent graduation from high school threatened his defense of the Senior Open title at Bellerive Country Club this year. Lietzke had promised her he'd take her on a cruise to celebrate. Until he learned this year's championship was moved to July, Lietzke had all but declared he'd be a no-show.
"My daughter graduates one time and one time only," said Lietzke. "She is getting ready to leave the nest. And I will do anything for them [his family]."
Earlier this year Lietzke, after rescheduling the cruise, made it official that
|En route to winning last year, Bruce Lietzke's putting was dazzling. He ended up taking the fewest putts of the championship with 107. (USGA Photo Archives)
he would try to become the first golfer to successfully defend since Gary Player in 1988. With that pronouncement, Lietzke was thrown into the Senior Open media hoopla on Sunday that accompanies a champion. He was already in St. Louis preparing for Monday's Media Day at Bellerive C.C. by recording radio spots to promote the championship's 25th year.
So what's Lietzke been up to since outlasting Tom Watson by two strokes at Inverness, which earned him $470,000? In a nutshell, a roller-coaster existence on the course.
In the final nine events he played after the Senior Open, Lietzke placed second at the Allianz Championship but no better than 14th in anything else. His eight top-10 finishes prior to July had him in the running for Player of the Year honors on the Champions Tour. After July he cooled, recording just one more top-10 finish.
This season he battled the injury bug early, suffering from adhesive capsulitis or what's termed ‘frozen shoulder'. It caused him to miss four tournaments between Jan. 25 and March 14. Incidentally, the two former Open winners before him were also stricken by injury or malady the following year they were to defend. Don Pooley, the 2002 champion, underwent surgery on a damaged shoulder in January of last year and wasn't the same. And the year before at Caves Valley, Bruce Fleisher had thoughts of prostate cancer on his mind as he missed the cut.
That isn't to suggest Lietzke should throw in the towel. So far he hasn't won yet this year, but back-to-back second-place finishes at Bruno's Memorial Championship and the FedEx Kinko's Classic have to inspire confidence.
Which is one intangible he and anyone else will need on the long Bellerive layout. Set at 7,117 yards, it will replace Edgewood Tahoe Country Club (1985) as the longest course in Senior Open history.
"I'm going to work as hard as I can," said Lietzke.
Ken Klavon is the USGA Web Editor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments.