Leave it to Bruce Lietzke to win his first major golf championship after nearly three decades in the pro ranks, then hesitate to accept it.
Sort of like a hunter who goes stalking big game, then wonders if his prey is worth the trouble of mounting and putting on display.
Part of Lietzke's low-key reaction to winning the U.S. Senior Open can probably be attributed to his rather cavalier attitude about playing the game that has brought him a little fame and a lot of fortune. And part of it is actually a semi-interesting study in just where the biggest of the senior majors fits in the general scheme of golf's top prizes.
After completing 72 grueling holes as the champion at Inverness Club, Lietzke said:
“I'm still trying to figure out this major championship thing, and it may take me days and weeks to figure it out. I will have to ask guys who have won Masters and majors on the regular tour and [also] majors out here as seniors to help collect my thoughts.
“This is the biggest tournament I have won in the last two years, the biggest of my seven victories since I turned 50. I can't ignore that. But I'm still pretty fresh off the PGA Tour and I still think of myself as a PGA Tour player. Those are the majors that I have looked at and lusted after for 27 years. I still don't like the idea that I'm 51 years old. I still have some of that rebelliousness in me.
“All my days as a kid practicing on the putting green, putting that four-footer, not one time in all my life was I putting that four-footer for the U.S. Senior Open championship. I was putting it for the Masters or the U.S. Open.
“I really feel better leaving it to [the media] to tell me where this tournament falls on my list of accomplishments. I will let you guys categorize it for me. If you tell me it is [a major], I will believe you.”
OK, Bruce, we'll give it a go.
They handed you a check for $470,000, exactly $120,000 more than you've earned for any previous win.
They handed you a sterling silver trophy imprinted with such names as Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino.
They played it at Inverness, not Egypt Valley, where the Champions Tour stopped the week before, or Rock Barn Golf and Country Club, where the tour is teeing it up this week.
It was conducted by the United States Golf Association, there was a 36-hole cut and all you old fogies were walking, not cruising around in golf carts. Had to actually earn the big bucks, you know?
More than 150,000 fans filed through the gates this week. Four local TV stations had crews on site for 14 hours a day. Your humble local newspaper could not have spit out more type if the Second Coming had taken place on the 18th fairway.
It was the biggest of your seven senior wins? That's mighty gracious of you, considering the others had names such as the Audi Senior Championship, the 3M Championship and the TD Waterhouse Championship. We don't notice the words United or States or Open listed there.
Trust me, Bruce. It was a major championship. You get some points for being candid and, privately, you're free to consider it as anything you want. You can use the trophy as a spittoon for all we care, or to change the oil in one of your vintage muscle cars back home in Dallas that golf paid for, or to hold bait while you're fishing at your lake house in northeast Oklahoma this week.
But to publicly call into question whether it is anything but a major is something of an insult to the USGA and to the fans from these parts who, had it been a run-of-the-mill Champions Tour event - let's call it the Geritol Over-The-Hill Golfers Short Course Wide Fairways Big Slow Greens Pension Fund Invitational - most likely would not have given a rat's patootie about it.
So let's start over. Bruce Lietzke, Take Two:
“I'm new to this tour and I'm certainly new to this idea of winning a major championship. So give me some time to reflect on it. I don't know where this ranks. I still want to say my first PGA Tour win and my Colonial and special Texas tournaments have special places in my heart. And there isn't any good reason that I can't make more room for surviving one of the toughest tests of golf that I have ever been exposed to. So I will find a way to make room.”
That's better. Still not there. But closer.
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