Harris County – Houston Sports Authority
The Insider: Golfer Lietzke had life figured out
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Before you ask, the answer is yes.
The banana story is true.
Bruce Lietzke’s caddie did indeed put a banana under a head cover at the end of the 1984 season to see if Lietzke really was telling the truth; that he wasn’t going to touch his clubs again until the start of the 1985 season.
Lietzke was true to his word. The bag stayed in his garage until he flew to Palm Springs in January and opened it. The smell was awful. And the persimmon driver? It was ruined thanks to a nasty black fungus. So was the bag.
That story is legend. So was Lietzke.
The man was a classic. A natural. He was honest, funny, humble, a great story teller and he never passed up a chance to take a minute and catch up with an old friend.
He was a man who did it his way, putting family, friends and fishing – and his collection of restored classic cars -- above golf. Far above it.
When word spread last Saturday that the 67-year-old former University of Houston star, 13-time PGA TOUR winner and 7-time Champions Tour winner had lost his 16-month battle with glioblastoma, the tributes flowed across social media.
Lietzke – Lieky to his friends -- passed away at his 625-acre ranch in Henderson County, near Athens, Tex., his family by his side. He fought the same aggressive brain cancer that took the life of Cathy Bryant, the wife of his fellow Champions player Bart Bryant.
“We hunted, we fished, but most importantly, we all laughed with 'Lieky.' He was truly one of the good guys, and will be missed,” two-time U.S. Open winner Curtis Strange posted on Twitter.
Lietzke, whose service is Monday, was the best part-time golfer the TOUR has ever seen. He never played more than 20 events a year and played just three Open Championships because he didn’t want to be away from his family. He played the events he wanted and courses he liked. He could toss out a helluva round any time, anywhere. And his success allowed him to live the life he wanted.
He played a perfect fade – a signature shot he developed out of necessity as a mini-tour player in the mid-1970s.
It was so natural he didn’t need to practice. And he didn’t want to.
"I'm just kind of a freak of nature in that I don't want my swing to improve,’’ he once said. “I want it to be exactly like it was yesterday."
Ben Crenshaw, a close friend, would shake his head.
“We’re so jealous of someone who can put clubs down and come back out and play,’’ Crenshaw said. “He has some of the best hand-eye coordination I’ve seen.
'' . . . . When I look at Bruce, I think of one of Harvey's (famed teacher Harvey Penick’s) favorite sayings. He said the players
that play the best are the ones who know themselves the best.
Bruce knows himself.''
Truth told, Lietzke didn’t like the spotlight. He loved to play and hang out with his buddies like Crenshaw, Strange, college roommate Bill Rogers, Jay Haas and brother-in-law Jerry Pate. If a win popped up in the equation, great. If it didn’t, there was always another week, another chance.
That didn’t mean he wasn’t fiercely competitive on the course. He was. He grew up playing against – and with – those old friends all the way back to his junior days. And through those first seven years on TOUR, he admits golf “fed his ego’’ and he won nine times.
But it was wife Rose, son Stephen and daughter Christine that grounded him and his stable of cars – not trophies – that made him smile. His 1967 Corvette Stingray and a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda topped that four-wheel, pride-and-joy toys list. And when he was home, he was home. No golf.
The last time Lietzke hit a golf ball? His last Champions Tour event in 2011. His last win? The 2003 U.S. Senior Open when he beat Tom Watson by two shots.
The ranch? No golf holes, no putting green. Just rolling East Texas pastures and water. Lietzke’s heaven on earth.
Like Hall of Famer Byron Nelson, who walked away from the game at 34, Lietzke didn’t regret his choices. He had a great life, a full life that was cut way too short.
“To make it work like he did,’’ Rogers told pgatour.com, “anyone would have liked to have done it like Bruce. He did it the way he wanted to do it and, in truth, he lived out his dream.
“. . . He was my best friend and the most strong-minded person I have ever been around. He also understood that the best of life comes from relationships – family and friends. I will miss him terribly.”