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Bruce Fleisher, Two-Time USGA Champion, Dies at 72 September 23, 2021 By David Shefter, USGA

Bruce Fleisher's U.S. Senior Open triumph in 2001 at Salem C.C. came 33 years after he claimed the U.S. Amateur. (John Mummert/USGA)

Bruce Fleisher, who won the 1968 U.S. Amateur and captured the U.S. Senior Open 33 years later, died from a bout with cancer on Sept. 23 at the age of 72 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. His span between USGA championship titles stood as the longest in history until 2009, when 1972 U.S. Amateur champion Marvin “Vinny” Giles surpassed the mark by winning the U.S. Senior Amateur.

“More than anything else, Bruce was a consummate professional,” said Fleisher’s brother, Jerry. “He shaved every day. He always had a crease in his pants. He was a proud member of the [Champions] Tour. He was gracious, he was kind, always there to lend a helping hand.”

Born in Union City, Tenn., on Oct. 16, 1948, Fleisher gravitated to golf at age 7 when he began caddieing at a local course with his two older brothers. Fleisher later attended Miami-Dade Junior College before transferring to Furman University. His breakthrough victory came in the 1968 U.S. Amateur at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, at the age of 19. Fleisher returned to the famed Donald Ross layout as a special guest when the club hosted the U.S. Senior Open in 2016, three years after he retired from tour competition.

“I only have memories of about four or five holes, especially the last three,” Fleisher told the Columbus Dispatch in an interview with writer Rob Oller prior to the 2016 U.S. Senior Open.

Fleisher entered the final round of stroke play – the U.S. Amateur was a 72-hole, stroke-play competition from 1965-72 – with a two-stroke lead, but a late charge by Giles trimmed his lead to a precarious one shot with three holes remaining.

Pars at Nos. 16 and 17 left Fleisher needing only a par at the closing hole to become the third-youngest champion in the event’s history behind Robert Gardner (1909) and Nicklaus (1959). Fleisher found the fairway and knocked his approach to 15 feet. He followed with a two-putt par to secure his place on the Havemeyer Trophy.

“It was like an out-of-body experience,” Fleisher said. “The last three holes I never remember swinging a club. It was like I was three feet off the ground, watching myself play. I was that focused. It was a mystical week.”

His amateur success enabled him to be selected to represent the USA on the victorious 1968 World Amateur Team and 1969 Walker Cup Team. At the Walker Cup Match held at Milwaukee Country Club in River Hills, Wis., Fleisher posted an 0-2-2 record, halving a singles match on Saturday with British stalwart and future R&A secretary Michael Bonallack. The USA posted a 10-8 triumph.

Fleisher, who earned low-amateur honors in the 1969 Masters, turned professional in late 1969 after missing the cut in both the U.S. Open and Open Championship and playing in the Walker Cup.

Yet he struggled as a tour pro and eventually took a job as a club professional in Miami in 1984. He did return to the PGA Tour in 1990 and finally secured his one and only PGA Tour victory in the 1991 New England Classic, defeating Ian Baker-Finch in a playoff. He did register five wins in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the 1971 and 1990 Brazil Open, 1980 Panama Open, 1990 Jamaica Open and 1990 Bahamas Open.

In 1968, Bruce Fleisher, at age 19, became the third-youngest U.S. Amateur champ behind Robert Gardner and Jack Nicklaus. (USGA Archives)

Once he turned 50, Fleisher had a new lease on his golf life and flashed the brilliance many people expected of him all along. He registered 18 Champions Tour victories between 1999 and 2004 and was named the circuit’s Rookie and Player of the Year in 1999, when he posted seven victories. His lone senior major was the 2001 U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club in Peabody, Mass., where he carded a final-round 68 to edge Isao Aoki and Gil Morgan by one stroke.

“He was like the old engine that could,” Jerry Fleisher said. “He got a second chance at the tour when he turned 50, and he was able to take advantage of it. He never gave up on himself. The older he got, the stronger he got. He played some of the best golf of his life in the few years before he turned 50 and then he was ready to go.”

Fleisher also served as the coach of the USA Team that competed in the 1989 and 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel. He won a gold medal for the USA in that competition for Jewish athletes in 1969.

In 2017, he was inducted into the Greater Wilmington (N.C.) Sports Hall of Fame.

Fleisher is survived by his longtime wife, Wendy, his older brothers, Leslie and Jerry, his younger sister Karen, his daughter Jessica Jones and son-in-law Jason Jones, and grandson Jake.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.orgScott Lipsky, the senior manager of digital media for the USGA, contributed to this article.