Some of the best theater at a golf tournament — especially on the PGA Tour Champions — isn’t the final putt on 18 or a holed bunker shot. It’s the stories on the practice range. Perfected over time, told again and again, the tales elicit hearty laughs, not-safe-for-print nicknames, firm backslaps and occasionally a pause for reflection.
Such was the case Monday at TPC Twin Cities when the handful of players already in town for this week’s 3M Championship offered thoughts on 2001 tournament winner Bruce Lietzke, who died Saturday after a 15-month battle with a rare brain tumor known as glioblastoma.
“Great guy, great personality,” said 2003 3M winner Wayne Levi. “Our lockers were always right next to each other — Levi and Lietzke — and there wasn’t a better person to put your shoes on with. It’s a sad thing that happened with him; you’ll always remember that fade and how many tournaments he won without really practicing much.”
Indeed, stories are ample of Lietzke’s aversion to putting in much time on the craft away from the course. Yet, he won 13 times on the PGA Tour and another seven events after turning 50, including the 2003 U.S. Senior Open.
His final victory on the regular tour came at the 1994 Las Vegas Invitational, then a 90-hole event. Lietzke shot 28 under, beating Robert Gamez by a shot.
“He was quite a bit older but I found out right away if Bruce came to a tournament, he was going to work,” said Gamez, who made his Champions Tour debut last week. “And, you know, it showed. He perfected that swing, and it was great to watch him with that big old banana cut out there and go, ‘Man. This guy has it.’ ”
And not just on the golf course.
University of Houston teammate Fuzzy Zoeller remembers their fishing excursions just as much as golf successes.
“We lost a great friend,” Zoeller said. “He was A-plus on everything. I know one thing: If there’s a big huge lake up in heaven — and I know there is — then the crappie beware.”
Monday’s pro-am featured a handful of local sports celebrities, with former Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway and Vegas Golden Knights forward Erik Haula drawing the most eyeballs among onlookers.
Haula, who played for Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the Gophers and the Wild before his 55-point season helped the Knights to the Stanley Cup Final, warmed up next to Hall of Fame defensive tackle John Randle, who marveled at Haula’s striped practice shots.
“Look at right here — The Great One!” Randle beamed.