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BOB WEST ON GOLF: Brain tumor leaves Lietzke in need of our prayers

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CaringBridge is a site for family and friends to get updates on patients and post notes of encouragement for them. To visit Bruce Lietzke’s website, visit CaringBridge.org, search for Bruce Lietzke and sign in.

Two weeks after he was in Beaumont to participate in an April 1 fundraiser for Lamar’s golf team in memory of his late brother, Brian, Bruce Lietzke was in a Dallas hospital having a malignant brain tumor removed.

The good news, according to his nephew, Rob, is that doctors believe they were able to get all of the tumor. Beyond that, Lietzke was said to be talking within seconds of having his breathing tube removed, and was telling family members about dreams he had during surgery.

Stark reality is that there are trying days ahead, and he faces a challenging path to recovery. Doctors must still assess the pathology reports and determine his ongoing course of treatment. Then he must go up against a foe tougher than the Jack Nicklauses, Tom Watsons and Fred Coupleses that he battled during a remarkable career.

Meanwhile, the 67-year-old Lietzke, who has given so much to the Southeast Texas golf community, now needs its help. More specifically, he needs our prayers. Matter of fact, he reached out to me on that very subject in an extraordinary email late Saturday afternoon. In part, he said, “On Thursday morning I was given a diagnosis that I have a brain tumor of substantial size. I am already in a hospital in Dallas and I have a surgery scheduled Monday at 7 a.m….

“Please tell your readers that I am a man of faith. I believe that God doesn’t always answer all prayers that come his way, and the ones that he answers don’t always have the results we want. But I do believe he hears all of the prayers.

“I do know that Jesus has lived in my heart since 1976 and I will draw from his strength and spirit to lead the way in this fight. Please ask your readers to pray for me, possibly for an extended period of time.”

There was more to the email, some of it personal toward me, along with the revelation that Jim Nantz of CBS broke the news about the brain tumor during the network’s golf telecast Saturday afternoon.

The important part was the prayer request and it has now been delivered with heartfelt concern.

Before moving on to the notes portion of this column, I need to reflect a bit on Bruce, and how much I respect him for being a great golfer and even better father and family man.
He and I go back to his beginnings as a junior golf sensation in Beaumont whose most formidable foes in those days were the Austin duo of Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite. I watched with great joy as he won 13 times on the PGA Tour and seven more times on the Champions Tour, including the 2003 U.S. Senior Open.

Most of you know what made Lietzke’s story so amazing and so admirable, but for those who don’t, here’s the bottom line. He likely would have won more in his prime but he was so relentlessly adamant about being there for his kids that he played a scaled-down schedule.

Lietzke’s peers on the PGA Tour were constantly shaking their heads that he could stay away for weeks, return and immediately be competitive. It flew in the face of all golf theory that a guy who rarely practiced and skipped so many tournaments could be so successful.

“Bruce was the envy of every Tour pro,” Nantz told me Monday. “Everyone wishes they could step away from the game for a few weeks or months and see their games return to normal without any upkeep.

“His career on Tour was more than solid with 13 wins but it’s the way he balanced his life that was impressive. If there was a Hall of Fame category that compiled a playing record, with a fishing record and a family-time record, he would walk through the door with a first ballot induction.”

The only downside to Lietzke’s career was it happened before Tiger Woods turned the PGA Tour into a cash cow. In a 20 plus year career that saw the first win come in 1977, and the last in 1994, his official PGA Tour winnings were a “mere” $6.4 million.

By contrast, Chris Stroud, who is still looking for his first victory, has pocketed in the neighborhood of $10 million.

To my knowledge, the money never was much of an issue to Bruce who, ironically, was paired with Tiger in his first PGA event after turning pro. He went on to earn $7.4 million more on the Champions Tour and was able to retire comfortably in a ranch south of Dallas.

He always believed his real wealth was his wife, his son and his daughter.
Lietzke’s golf legacy in Southeast Texas has lived on through the annual junior tournament at Idylwild in June bearing his name. Very rarely is he not on hand to mingle with the kids. He also comes back for the Tyrrell Park Junior Golfer reunion saluting his mentor, Henry Homberg.

Please include Bruce in your prayers.
CHIP SHOTS

Last week, we led this part of the golf column off with facts on Roddy Weatherly’s seventh hole in one. Turns out there was a lot more to the story than first reported, as Dennis Walsh will sadly testify.

Before Weatherly hit his tee shot on the 118-yard, 17th at Henry Homberg, playing partner Charles Cooksey suggested a $20 closest to the hole bet. Weatherly accepted and Walsh was asked if he wanted in on the action.

Walsh declined, saying he had seen Weatherly hit it close too many times on the 17th. He paused, then told Weatherly, “I’m not going closest to the hole with you, but let’s put up $100 for a hole in one.” Weatherly agreed, then promptly sank his tee shot with a pitching wedge. Walsh’s response apparently was not fit for a family newspaper …
Gary Whitfill of Port Arthur went on another birdie binge Monday at Babe Zaharias, rolling in seven on his way to a 68 that led his team to a win on the front nine in the Senior 50 Plus game. The foursome of Whitfill, John House, Larry Foster and Bob Frazier finished 9 under in the best two-ball format.

There was a two-way tie on the back. The team of Russ Gloede, Bernard Whitaker, Larry Johnson and Larry Rogers posted minus-4, as did the foursome of Steve Picou, Bobby Wactor, Tony Trevino and Jess McPhillips …

Cap Hollier of Groves cleaned up in the two-ball competition played Friday and Saturday at Zaharias. On Saturday, Hollier, Rick Pritchett, Thad Borne and Wes McGuire won both the front and back nines in minus-4.

That followed a Friday sweep by Hollier with the team of Gene Jones, Rusty Hicks and Tommy Duhon. They were minus 5 on both sides. Orange’s Duhon helped considerably with his best ever round of 74 …

The Thursday Senior Game was contested in individual stroke play with handicap.  Earl Richard won First Flight with a 66, edging Larry Johnson and Adam Noel by two strokes.
John LeBlanc took Second Flight with a 67, with Frazier two back at 69. In Third Flight, Ben Thornton’s 64 was three shots clear of Steadman Tahaney. Closest to the pin winners were Paul Brown (No. 2), Tahaney (No. 7), Richard (No. 12) and Noel (No. 15) …

The team of Pritchett, Cody Metts, Don Duplan and McPhillips won the Wednesday DogFight at Zaharias with 16 points. Teams captained by Hollier, Richard and Don McNeil tied for second with 13 points.

Closest to the pin winners were Pritchett (No. 2), Mike Hollier (No. 7), Ron Mistrot (No. 7) and Bob West (No. 13).

Golf news should be emailed to rdwest@usa.net