By Bob Arnett
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.
In 1980 when performance records were first kept, Bruce led the tour in greens in regulation, eagles, total driving, and par breakers. By the end of 1981 Lietzke joined Raymond Floyd, Tom Watson and Bill Rogers as the only three time winners on Tour for that year.
I’m reminded of a tourney Lietzke had won when the announcer said, “After this win you should be in good form to make a run at the U.S. Open in a couple of weeks.”
“Not really”, replied Lietzke. “The Open course doesn’t fit my game.
Besides I’ll be taking some time off. My family and cars are waiting for me.” Both Lietzke and Littler collected classic automobiles.
Lietzke was also known as a player who did not practice during those times he was not on tour.
Bruce was John Daly’s playing partner during the third round of the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick in 1991 when the rules committee was deciding whether or not to penalize Daly because they thought his caddy had touched the green with the flagstick on Daly’s line to the cup.
Bruce spoke up to defend Daly and his caddy, Squeaky Meddlin. The penalty was not assessed. Daly won the tournament with Bruce Lietzke taking runner-up honors, three shots back.
It’s certainly rare to find two professional golfers who approached the game so similarly. They definitely are outstanding golfers who are in addition, equally outstanding gentlemen.
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Rick Petty, coach of the girls’ golf team at West Vigo, wants to offer a big thank you to Jim Jenkins, General Manager, and Scott Riley, head professional at the Landing for allowing the Vikings girls’ team to utilize the Landing as its home course.
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Congratulations are in order for long hitting Chris Keen for his win in the Rea Park Club Championship. Two solid rounds of 69 and 67 were good for a three shot margin over Scott Givins, another big hitter.
Also a tip of the hat to senior and junior Rea Park champs respectively, those being E. T. Horrall and Sam Pollock.
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Ray Goddard reports that the Idle Creek Club Championship is on the docket for Labor Day weekend.
Golfers will play 36 holes during four days to determine gross, net, and senior winners. Entry fee is $25.
Ernie Maesch is the defending gross champion. Defending champs in net and senior divisions are Bob Mundy and Dick Wieble respectively.
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• Tip of the week — If you’re missing putts both to the left and right of the cup, here’s a tip from the late Tiny Horton, longtime high school coach in Illinois. Get your left eye (opposite for lefties) directly over the ball when you putt. Utilize a plumb bob if you want to be exact.
P.S. Contact Bernie Ridens if you need a plumb bob. He collects them and I’m certain he has a few hundred lying around.
Keep your head down and your shoestrings tied. We’ll be back.
Bob Arnett can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Vigo County Golf Leagues
First Financial Ladies Rea Park Monday — Standings: VFW No. 2 384, Bratt Hospital 383, Shepard’s Gas 377, VFW No. 1 357, Baesler’s Market 331, Tabco 328. Low gross: Verla Talkington 46. Low net: Latta 34. Play of the day: Kay Gard.
Ft. Harrison Ladies 9-hole — Low gross: Mary Shake. Low net: Mary Ann Tackett. Low putts (tie): Ginny Shawler and Tackett. Play of the day: Effie Giffel.
Paitson’s Eastside — Standings: Daphne’s Beauty Salon 641, Baesler’s Market 614, Turner Coaches 569, Sandy’s Touch of Magic 553, Coaches Corner 541, Deckmaster’s 533, Advanced Chiropractic 524, Page’s Market 505. Low gross: Daphne Newport 38. Low net: Glenda McVeigh 27. Birdies: Daphne Newport (10). Chip-ins: Donna Sumansky (11), McVeigh (17), Karen Cox (16), Newport (10). Play of the day: Blanche Law
Rea Park Wednesday Evening Ladies 9-hole — Standings: Padgett-Snow 33, Newton-Petty 31, Pair-Bedwell 30, Meyer-Clements 30, Swalls-Mozley 29, Mann-Rusk 28, Horrall-Mahalek 22, Lanke-Johnson 22, Cannon-Atterson 21, Honselman-Hiatt 19, Hamilton-Harden 19, Durand-Hyde 18, McCord-Ugo 17, Bocard-Luttrell 17. Low gross: Shirley Padgett 36. Low net: Padgett 30. Chip-in: Madonna Johnson.
Mark’s Par Three Senior Men — Standings: Midwest Gas 302, Tabco 289, Vigo Bowl 282, Dew Drop Inn 265, Mattingly Collision 263, Old National Trust 257, Sycamore Chevrolet 244, Fuson Cadillac 205. Low gross: Bill Turner 33. Low net: Jack Pattison, Bill Brock 26. Closest to pin: Joe Adcock (12). Longest drive: Marvin Mericle (13). Longest putt: Gordon Geckeler (17).
Rea Park Women's Tuesday 18-hole — Low gross: Stephanie Meyer 74. Low net: Lorri Ugo 62. Birdies: Ugo (4), Meyer (6, 17). Chip-ins: Ugo (4), Meyer (17).
Tere Haute Savings Bank Senior Men — National Division standings: Complete Kitchen and Bth 198, Lough Bros. 186, Paitson Bros. 181, Page’s Market No. 1 180, SMC 172, T.H. Savings Bank 161, Pizza Hut 161, Fore Seasons Golf Complex 157. Low gross: Terry Liffick and Dean Kays 38. Low net: Kays and Don Tooloose 31. American Division standings: VFW No. 972 189, Spring Clean Car Wash 185, Callahan Funeral Home 177, Pabst Painting 171, Poplar Flower Shop 170, Page’s Market 162, Salt of the Earth 153. Low gross: Chuck Cardinal 35. Low net: Bill Meng 30.
Idle Creek Terminal Sports and Spirits Wednesday Evening — Low gross: Mike Nuckols 38. Low net: Nuckols 35. Long putt: Matt Love (7). Closest to pin: Dave Rowlett (4).
Idle Creek Home Builders Tuesday Evening — Low gross: Mark Tarrh 39. Low net: Bob Mundy and Brian Puttmann 33. Long putt: Tarrh (10). Closest to pin: Terry Day (12).
Idle Creek Ladies Tuesday Morning Scramble — First place (35): Denise Rowlett, Breanna Moore, Katy Drummy, Mary Brannen. Second place (38): Candy Lovvron, Suzy Colligan, Barb Alcock, Jan Cutter. Longest putt: Cutter (2). Closest to pin: Alcock (3).