Harris County – Houston Sports Authority

The Insider: Golfer Lietzke had life figured out

The golf world said farewell to Bruce Lietzke. Bob Levey/Getty Images

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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.”







 

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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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