Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Friday, October 22, 1999


Fleisher reliving his dream

KAANAPALI, Maui - Bruce Fleisher, who's trying to end Hale Irwin's two-year domination as the Senior PGA Tour's top player, is the one to watch in the EMC Kaanapali Classic that began today at the par-71 Kaanapali North Course.

Fleisher's the story on the Senior Tour, holding a distinction that will be hard to beat.

He's the only player to win back-to-back tournaments in his first two starts after becoming only the eighth ever to win in their Senior Tour debuts.

The others are Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, George Archer, Gary Player, Roberto De Vicenzo, Rod Funseth and Don January, who in 1980 won the very first Senior Tour event ever played.

"I've made history," said Fleisher, a native Tennesseean who won the U.S. Amateur in 1968 and seemed headed for a can't-miss professional career.

But Fleisher won only once in more than 400 PGA Tour events, nothing that hinted to what he is now accomplishing on the Senior Tour.

"I had a fair career. I made a living," Fleisher said. "But now I've been able to relive my dream. The Senior Tour has been a blessing in a lot of ways."

Actually, according to Fleisher, he has been blessed three or four times in his life, the latest coming after he joined the over-50 set who are enjoying a real-life mulligan.

FLEISHER thinks he's now better prepared to appreciate his successes than when he started out nearly 30 years ago as an outgoing youngster.

"When you're in the 20s, there is a denial of death. In the 30s, you think about getting a home and getting married.

"In the 40s, you hope you have a home and are married. In the 50s, your family and health come first. I've been blessed."

One of other blessings came in 1980 when his wife Wendy survived a life-and-death battle while giving birth to their daughter, Jessica.

His perspective on golf and life changed, leading him then to give up a nomadic life on the tour for a steady income as a club professional in Florida.

But Fleisher knew he could still play and won his only PGA Tour event, the 1991 New England Classic, at the age of 42.

He kept active while waiting to turn 50, playing competitively all that time, including a couple of times in the Kapalua International.

Fleisher, who finished second in the Qualifying School to gain his playing card for this year, said he didn't set out with any specific goals in mind.

NOW, he has one. To wrest the money title away from Irwin, who has won the Senior Tour money crown the last two years.

"Hale has dominated out here. But I'm fighting for it," Fleisher said.

"Bruce Fleisher is a remarkable story on the Senior Tour this year," said Mark Rolfing, NBC's golf commentator.

Rolfing, though, thinks Irwin, who represents the Kapalua Resort just up the road from here, is the player to beat this weekend.

Fleisher, Irwin and Jim Ahern will be guests on Rolfing's Golf Hawaii television show next month.

"Ahern is the real Cinderella story of the year," Rolfing said.

"He has been on and off the regular tour for years. He gets in as a Monday qualifier and wins a tournament. And has made more than $400,000."

By winning the AT&T Canada Senior Open, Ahern became the first Monday qualifier to win since Dana Quigley did it two years ago.

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

E-mail to Sports Editor

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