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Bruce Lietzke: casual champion, life winner

 

Bruce Lietzke was as well known for his relaxed golf habits as he was for a highly successful professional career.

A “laid-back winner,” The New York Times called him in its weekend obituary. “Fun-loving PGA Tour winner,” ABC News said, in announcing his death. Reuters news agency sent notice of his death around the world. And yet, as casual as he was about his sport, he was accomplished enough at the highest levels of the game that his death merited notice around the globe.

Not bad for a Forest Park High graduate who left Beaumont for golf at the University of Houston, a premier school for the sport.

His roommate there was Bill Rogers, who later won the British Open. Rogers and other close friends, including U.S. Open winner Jerry Pate (Lietzke’s brother in law) and Master’s winner Ben Crenshaw, accompanied him for treatments and surgery for a rare form of brain cancer, which claimed Lietzke’s life Saturday.

For his part, Lietzke shunned the U.S. Open and British Open during much of his career, instead taking long summer breaks for vacations with his wife and children. Nonetheless, he won 13 times on the PGA Tour, including playoff wins over Gene Littler, Tom Watson, Raymond Floyd and Corey Pavin. He won the U.S. Senior Open in 2003, ahead of Watson.

He never played more than 25 tournaments a year, never more than 20 after 1988. His focus was on his wife of 38 years, Rose, and his two children, his ranch in Athens, classic cars and junior golf. Among those he influenced: current PGA Tour pro Chris Stroud of Groves, who, playing at the Canadian Open last weekend, sought ways to honor Lietzke. Lietzke won the Canadian Open twice.

Liezke as a young golfer also benefited from the attention of Beaumont pro Henry Homberg, who mentored him as a junior golfer, and Liezke’s older brother Duane, a club pro in Oklahoma, who introduced him to golf at age 5.

He never earned entry into the golf halls of fame, but he never sought such accolades.

Golf Channel columnist Tim Rosaforte quoted a remarkable story from sports psychologist Kapil Gupta:

“I read the transcript of an interview with Mr. Lietzke in which I came across one of the most interesting statements I have ever heard from a professional athlete,” Gupta wrote. “He said, ‘It’s human nature to want to be better. I don’t want to be better. I want to be exactly like I was yesterday.’ ”

He earned entry into the Sports Hall of Fame at The Museum of the Gulf Coast, a member of the first class in July 1994, treasured by the people in his home county.

For his remarkable life, he will be missed and remembered.