Bruce Fleisher: Won National Championships As Amateur, Senior

Golfer Bruce Fleisher circa 1968
Bruce Fleisher was a golfer who won big when he was young, went many years without winning, then won even bigger as a senior tour golfer. A two-time USGA national champion, Fleisher's PGA Tour career didn't live up to expectations after a U.S. Amateur title that came before he turned 20. But he made up for it in a highly successful, lucrative Champions Tour career.

Full name: Bruce Lee Fleisher

Date of birth: October 16, 1948

Place of birth: Union City, Tennessee

Date and place of death: September 23, 2021, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

Nickname: Flash

Fleisher's Biggest Wins

As an amateur:
  • 1968 U.S. Amateur
On the PGA Tour: Fleisher had numerous wins off the tour before joining the senior tour. Those included the 1971 Brazil Open, 1980 Panama Open, 1990 Bahamas Open, and the Jamaica Open in 1986 and 1990. He also won the Pebble Beach Invitational in 1993.

He also won the PGA Club Professional Championship, the national championship of club pros, in 1989. At the state level, Fleisher won the Florida Open in 1980 and 1987, plus the South Florida PGA Championship in 1981 and 1987.

Champions Tour: 18 Victories

Fleisher also had one victory on the European Seniors Tour, the 2000 Irish Seniors Open.

Winning the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Senior Open

Fleisher's career was bookended by two USGA national championships, one as an amateur golfer, one as a senior golfer. He won both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Senior Open.

At age 19, Fleisher won the 1968 U.S. Amateur Championship, played at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. At the time, he was the tournament's third-youngest champion (behind Robert Gardner, the 1909 champ, and 1959 champ Jack Nicklaus, whose home course was Scioto).

The 1968 U.S. Amateur was played in the middle of an eight-year period when the Amateur used a stroke play, not match play, format. Fleisher led by two strokes following the third round. But in the final round, Vinny Giles made a charge up the leaderboard.

With three holes left, Fleisher's lead over Giles was just one. He parred the 16th and 17th holes, and needed one more par to win. He got it by hitting the fairway, hitting the green, and taking two putts for the victory.

Decades later, Fleisher remembered for the USGA: "It was like an out-of-body experience. The last three holes I never remember swinging a club. It was like I was three feet off the ground, watching myself play. I was that focused."

More than 30 years later, then in his early 50s, Fleisher was runner-up to Hale Irwin in the 2000 U.S. Senior Open. But the next year he got the job done.

At the 2001 U.S. Senior Open, Fleisher came from a couple strokes off the lead following the third round to a one-stroke victory over Isao Aoki and Gil Morgan by firing a final-round 68.

At the time, that made Fleisher just the third golfer — after Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus — to win both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Senior Open. Those two wins came 33 years apart for Fleisher, which stood as the all-time record for longest time between USGA championship titles until 2009. That record was brokeny by Vinny Giles, the runner-up to Fleisher in 1968.

More About Bruce Fleisher

Bruce Fleisher was a relatively unknown golfer when he won that 1968 U.S. Amateur. But that same year, he also won the National Junior College (NJCAA) championship playing for Miami-Dade Junior College. And he was part of Team USA in the World Amateur Team Championship (Eisenhower Trophy).

That productive season lead to Fleisher's inclusion on Team USA in the 1969 Walker Cup. Alas, Fleisher didn't win a match (although Team USA won the competition), going 0-2-2. But he did stage a famous comeback: 5-down to Michael Bonallack in Day 1 singles, Fleisher won five consecutive holes to halve the match.

His Amateur championship also got Fleisher into the 1969 Masters Tournament. He earned low amateur honors with a tie for 44th. And Fleisher won gold medals both individually and as part of Team USA in the 1969 Maccabiah Games in Israel. (He was Team USA's golf coach in the Games in both 1989 and 2013.)

Fleisher turned pro that year and 1970 was his first trying to play the PGA Tour full-time. There were big expectations of Fleisher as a pro, but, for the bulk of his on-again, off-again PGA Tour career, those expectations were unmet. He never finished in the Top 60 on the money list, coming closest in 1981 at 64th, which meant he was not fully exempt for most of his tour career. (The year of his one victory, 1991, he finished 76th.) There were multiple trips to Qualifying School over the years.

In 1984, Fleisher left the PGA Tour to take a club pro job in South Florida. He stayed competitive with PGA of America, state and regional tournaments, including some victories. In the early 1990s, in his 40s and with the lure of the Champions Tour ahead, Fleisher began showing flashes of the golfer who caught a lot of eyes as an amateur back in the 1960s. He tuned up his game on the Ben Hogan Tour, where he made it into a playoff (that also included John Daly) before finishing second to Ted Tryba in the 1990 Ben Hogan Gateway Open.

And he returned to the PGA Tour. In 1991, at the New England Classic, Fleisher earned the only PGA Tour victory of his career. He won that event with a 50-foot birdie putt on the seventh playoff hole, defeating Ian Baker-Finch one week before Baker-Finch won the 1991 British Open. There weren't a lot of good showings after that, however, and Fleisher last played in a PGA Tour tournament in 1998.

(Fleisher's first appearance in a pro major was in the 1968 U.S. Open, and his last in the 1994 PGA Championship. That's a long span, but he actually played very few non-senior majors. He played in only three majors in the entire decade of the 1970s, and only three more in the entirety of the 1980s. Fleisher's best finish in a non-senior major was tied for 14th in the 1993 PGA Championship. His only other Top 25 finish was tied for 25th in the 1992 Masters.)

For his PGA Tour career, Fleisher made 460 starts and finished in the Top 10 25 times. In addition to his one victory, he finished second four times, third twice, and in the Top 5 11 times.

He turned 50 in October of 1998 and entered Champions Tour Q-School, claiming one of the five spots available for the tour's 1999 season. And if his PGA Tour career failed to meet the expectations many had for him, Fleisher's Champions Tour career wildly exceeded any expectations.

He won his very first senior tournament on his new tour at the 1999 Royal Caribbean Classic, just the eighth player in Champions Tour history to win his tour debut. Then he won his next tournament, the American Expression Invitational, becoming the very first golfer to win his first two Champions Tour starts. (In 2020, Phil Mickelson became the second golfer to do that.) Going for three wins in three starts, Fleisher finished second in his next tournament.

Fleisher wound up winning seven times in 1999 (the seventh golfer in the tour's history to win at least that many times in one season), with seven runner-up finishes, and a tour-leading 69.19 scoring average. He led the Champions Tour money list, was named Rookie of the Year, and won the Player of the Award to top it off. It was a spectacular debut season, missing only a major championship — something Fleisher got two years later at the U.S. Senior Open.

The Champions Tour's Charles Schwab Cup points chase was created in 2001, and Fleisher was the runner-up that first year, and finished third in 2002. He was among the biggest winners on the senior circuit in each of the next several years after 1999:

  • In 2000, he had four wins, five seconds, and was second on the money list.
  • In 2001, he had three wins, three seconds, and was second on the money list.
  • In 2002, he had one win, four seconds, and was third on the money list.
In each of his first four Champions Tour seasons, Fleisher had at least 19 Top 10 finishes. In 2003 he slipped to 10th on the money list, then rebounded to fifth in 2004. In 2004, Fleisher had two wins and one runner-up, which turned out to be his final wins and second-place finish on the senior circuit. His last third-place finish was in 2009 and last Top 10 finish in 2012.

Fleisher also set some all-time Champions Tour records during that very productive 1999-2004 period. He established a 54-hole scoring record at the time in the 2002 RJR Championship at 191 (60-64-67). The 124 he carded over the first two rounds in that event established a record for the first 36 holes of a tournament, and also for any two back-to-back rounds on the tour. And his first-round 60 was just the third in Champions Tour history to that point.

On the Champions Tour, Fleisher made 363 career starts and finished in the Top 10 almost of a third of them, 116. In addition to his 18 senior circuit victories, he was runner-up 23 times, finished third place 13 times, and placed in the Top 5 in 72 tournaments.

His total of 18 career wins on the Champions Tour was, at the time of his final win in 2004, one of the 10 highest totals in the senior tour's history. It still ranks in the Top 20 today on the list of Champions Tour career victory leaders.

Fleisher retired from competitive golf in 2013. In 2016, the U.S. Senior Open was played at Scioto Country Club, site of Fleisher's U.S. Amateur championship. He attended that week as a special guest of the USGA.

Fleisher was 72 years old when he died of cancer in 2021. He is a member of the Greater Wilmington (N.C.) Sports Hall of Fame and the NJCAA Golf Hall of Fame.

Photo credit: Bruce Fleisher in college, public domain, State Archives of Florida

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