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Rub of the Green

August 23, 2008

Rub of the Green: Old-school approach to pro tour

Most professional golfers are out to fill their coffers with all the cash they can win, but there have been two notable exceptions to that line of thinking.

Both Gene Littler and Bruce Lietzke disdained playing the entire professional tour and traveling back and forth across the country each year. Instead, they chose to set their respective goals as to an amount of money each would need for the year, and when they had won the stipulated amount, they went home. Neither could ever be accused of being greedy. As Littler once remarked, “Sometimes I make my quota by May, at other times I have to keep playing until September.”

Littler burst upon the national golf scene when he won the 1953 U.S. Amateur by beating Martinsville, Ind., native Dale Morey, one up in the championship match. He captured the attention of the golfing world when he won the first professional tournament he entered, the San Diego Open, in 1954. With five wins in 1959, Littler would go on to win the 1961 U.S. Open. Although hampered by shoulder surgery for cancer, Gene “the Machine” as he was nicknamed, would make a strong comeback after his surgery and continue to win PGA events which numbered 29 by the time he joined the Senior PGA Tour.

By winning the Tournament of Champions held in Las Vegas back in 1954, Gene was presented with the winner’s check for $10,000. At the same time, Frankie Laine, the singer, received $72,900 for having Littler’s name in the Calcutta.

Gene the Machine still makes infrequent appearances on the Senior PGA Tour.

Strangely enough, Bruce Lietzke also won his first professional tournament just as Littler had done, except that Lietzke’s win occurred in January of 1977. That was 23 years after Gene “the Machine” turned that trick. Strange as it may seem, Bruce’s first win, the Joe Garagiola Tucson Open, came on the fourth hole of a sudden death playoff against (guess who?) Gene Littler. Less than a month later Bruce would win the Hawaiian Open. Later he would beat Tom Watson in a playoff to annex the Byron Nelson Classic.

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