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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 4, 2002

Fleisher still has Senior magic

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Bruce Fleisher won the 1999 EMC Ka'anapali Classic on Maui, his seventh victory as Senior PGA Tour rookie.

Advertiser library photo Oct. 24, 1999

WHAT: 2002 Turtle Bay Championships Senior PGA Tour event

WHEN: Today-Sunday starting from 7:30 a.m.

WHERE: Palmer Course at Turtle Bay (Par 36-36—72, 7,044 yards).

PURSE: $1.5 million ($225,000 first prize).

FIELD: 78 Senior PGA Tour players, including defending champion Hale Irwin Hawai'i's Steve Veriato and Larry Stubblefield, Isao Aoki, Bruce Fleisher, Bob Gilder, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Walter Morgan and Dana Quigley.

TICKETS: $10 daily or $20 for a three-day pass. Children 17-under free with ticket-bearing adult.

TV (HST): Today, 1-3 p.m., PAX TV; tomorrow-Sunday, noon-2 p.m., CNBC.

Apparently 60 is the magic number on the Senior PGA Tour these days. It has nothing to do with age.

Until three weeks ago, Bruce Fleisher, Larry Nelson and Allen Doyle — the last three Players of the Year — had combined to go 0-for-2002. They've collected $4 million, but until Fleisher captured the RJR Championship Sept. 15, they hadn't actually won a tournament.

It took a 60 out of the chute at Winston-Salem to do that. Fleisher, who parred the last four holes that day, shattered the tour's 36- and 54-hole scoring records and held off Hale Irwin by five shots. Fleisher is still sizzling, coming into today's Turtle Bay Championship with a streak of 27 sub-par rounds.

He needs five more to tie Nelson's record, but for now will settle for three this weekend at Turtle Bay's Palmer Course. Even that might not be enough on a tour that, with the exception of Irwin — Turtle Bay's defending champion — seems to go through "dominant" players the way some go through drivers.

"Now, as I look at the practice tee we've got Watsons and Kites and Pooleys and Nelsons and Irwins and Greens and Zoellers ... it's become an extension of the PGA Tour," Fleisher says. "Next year we'll have Craig Stadler and then Peter Jacobsen.

"The competition has just gotten stiffer. It's not that easy to go out and win. And of course some of us are getting a little older and maybe we're not quite as hungry."

Fleisher will be 54 in two weeks. Four years into his twilight career, he's won nearly $11 million and 15 tournaments. Even this year, when "Time to time I've thought, 'Gee, what's wrong, I haven't won,'" he has 19 Top-10 finishes.

"Things have been pretty good," Fleisher says. "How can you complain?"

In nearly 30 years — minus a late-80's sabbatical as a club pro — and 408 regular tour events he won $1.7 million, and one official event. That doesn't include victories in the 1968 U.S. Amateur, 1989 PGA Club Pro Championship and tropical trifecta — Jamaican Open, Bahamas Open and Brazilian Open.

All that only makes him appreciate this time more. He remembers not being able to buy his first car until he was eight years into his marriage. He also recalls walking into an O'ahu pro shop years ago and being welcomed with, "Hey, didn't you used to be Bruce Fleisher from Miami-Dade Junior College?"

He still is Bruce Fleisher, and he's never been happier.

"No one has a crystal ball," he says. "If I'd made it big in my 20s, I probably wouldn't have been married 33 years. I may not have been able to handle it.

"It's more satisfying at this stage of my life. Honestly, I think these kids have too much too soon. Where do you go from there? I'm satisfied now when I can smile."

That would be here, where Fleisher feels at home in the islands. He extended his tropical win streak through the 1999 EMC Ka'anapali Classic, one of seven victories in his remarkable Player/Rookie of the Year campaign. He's spent the last four days doing absolutely nothing on the Kona Coast, and felt just as fulfilled.

Yesterday was his first look at the Palmer Course. Today, he and 77 other "older" guys start playing for $1.5 million, only a little less than he made during that long PGA Tour career. Times have changed, but suddenly the seniors seem to be going retro.

"You have to realize that originally, the senior tour was a reunion and a show," Fleisher says. "Now the money is bigger and the competition is stiffer. Guys mean business. The camaraderie is not as great as it could be or should be at this stage of our life. But it's a business."

SHORT PUTTS: This week, Leonard Thompson, Jay Sigel, John Jacobs, Gibby Gilbert, J.C. Snead and Jim Thorpe have withdrawn. George Burns, Mark Hayes, Lon Hinkle, Jim Simons, Dick Lotz and Dave Barr have replaced them. ... Morris Hatalsky's turtle won Tuesday's annual Turtle Race. The event raised money for charity.