Toledo, Ohio – Bruce Lietzke played his last competitive round in April. He has participated in a couple of youth clinics back home in Texas, but hasn’t played a single hole.
He has not been injured; he quite simply has chosen not to play.
Write him off as a contender for the 32nd U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club? Do so in pencil only.
I actually love coming to a tournament having had 10 weeks off, 12 weeks off, said Lietzke, who won the U.S. Senior Open here eight years ago. I've played some of my best golf after long, long layoffs.
Lietzke believes the reason is buried in the fact that he does not tinker with his swing — at least not since 1974 — or his equipment. He also learned early on that the tournament results were essentially the same whether he worked the dirt rigorously in preparation for Thursday’s opening round or just showed up.
In 1983 Lietzke, with his wife pregnant and unable to travel, put the clubs away following a sixth-place finish at the PGA Championship at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. After his son was born in October, Lietzke still kept the clubs closeted until the 1984 season-opening Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in January.
If I remember right, I shot 65‑67, and then I pulled a muscle in my chest and I withdrew from the tournament after being 9‑ or 10‑under after two rounds, went home and recovered from that, and I'm sure [the injury resulted] from the inactivity, Lietzke said.
Lietzke, 60, of Athens, Texas, reappeared at the Honda Classic nearly two months later and won, defeating Andy Bean on the first playoff hole.
That's when I said, ‘Man, I'm on to something now,’ he said. I've just had five months off and I haven't had to test it since then. That was the one that finally proved it to me.
Unlike mentors Miller Barber and Don January, both of whom did not start reducing their playing schedules until their 70s, Lietzke just does not have the drive to be on tour continuously. And never has.
Lietzke turned pro in 1974 and in his 37-year career on the PGA and Champions tours he has never played more than 25 tournaments in a single season. A 1981 U.S. Ryder Cup team member, Lietzke has won 13 times on the PGA Tour and seven more times on the Champions Tour.
I knew I was going to play a very select number of tournaments this year, said Lietzke, who has only played three tournaments in 2011 prior to this week. I only played 13 last year, and I chose these six or seven tournaments early in the year, and that was going to be my schedule, and that's the way it's going to stay.
Find Lietzke at home, and he will not be sitting and watching, as he says, Maury Povich and Oprah. Instead, he is maintaining his 630-acre Texas ranch and fishing out of its three lakes.
Since Lietzke cherry-picks his tournaments, he is in Toledo by choice.
I told a couple of people that coming here, it's the reason that you go to your old high school after 30 or 40 years, he said. You kind of want to see the old building. Dorr Street doesn't look any different to me than it did in 1979 the first time I played a major here, and that clubhouse hasn't changed one bit that I can tell. It's just a good feeling.
The memories are not too bad either.
Lietzke, a devoted left-to-right player, jokingly remembers hitting what he called the seventh and eighth hooks of his career en route to winning this major in 2003. The first was on the eighth hole during the final round as he held a two-stroke lead over Tom Watson.
I hit a great drive all the way to the end of the fairway, but I was blocked by some trees on the left side, and I actually had to hook a 5‑iron, he said. Not a big hook, it was about a 10‑foot hook, but it was the only way I could go at the pin. And I hit a nice little hook, which I don't like to do. I hit it about 15 feet from the hole and made the putt, and Watson didn't make birdie.
Six holes later, Lietzke pushed his tee shot at the par-4 14th into the trees.
[Later] I saw the telecast and [NBC analyst] Roger Maltbie had gone over to see my lie in the right rough, and I was underneath the trees, and Roger tells Johnny Miller, ‘Lietzke has got no shot at the green; he's going to have to hit a little low punch shot back to the fairway.’
Lietzke actually had options: either pitch out back into the fairway or hook a 7‑iron about 25 yards through an opening in the trees to the right. He opted for the latter and left the shot just short of the green.
I got up and down for par, and again, kept my momentum going, he said. But those two hooks probably saved the tournament for me.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA websites.