Bruce Lietzke: The king of taking time off

Bruce Lietzke in 2010

Bruce Lietzke in 2010

Editor’s note: Bruce Lietzke withdrew after 13 holes Thursday. He was 8 over par at the time.

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TOLEDO, Ohio – You gotta love Bruce Lietzke.

He won the 2003 U.S. Senior Open played here at the Inverness Club. Sometimes it seems like he hasn’t played since.

Lietzke is the king of taking time off.

He sat down Wednesday at the 2011 U.S. Senior Open to explain his golf philosophy, and one thing was very, very clear: Lietzke is thoughtful, introspective, articulate and witty.

Any image of Lietzke as a simple, homespun, aw-shucks Texas rancher is dead wrong.

“This is only my third tournament of the year,” said Lietzke, who owns a 628-acre ranch near Athens, Texas, southeast of Dallas. “I haven’t played a golf hole since April. The fishing has been good. I’ve been mowing my pastures in an air-conditioned tractor. It’s been way too hot in Texas to be in anything other than an air-conditioned tractor, so I’m not going to act like I’m out there toughing it.

“I actually love coming to a tournament having had 10 weeks off, 12 weeks off. I’ve played some of my best golf after long, long layoffs. I’ve only played two tournaments this year and I haven’t played real well in those, but coming off a long break away from the game, that never has stopped my confidence before.”

Lietzke is suffering from a sore right shoulder but said, “My expectations are still pretty good. I’ve taken weeks and weeks off before, and I’ve won tournaments within one or two weeks of coming from a 10- or 12-week layoff where literally I just don’t touch a golf club, and that’s been my practice really my whole career.”

How can he do this?

“I think it’s because I don’t change my golf swing,” he said. “I don’t change equipment very much. I literally haven’t had a lesson ... since 1974. I don’t have swing thoughts. I don’t change anything, so it’s the same swing. My swing kind of evolved in ’74 ... and that’s exactly the same swing (I’ve got now). I have not changed one thing in my swing (for 37 years).

“I just decided it was good for me to mentally get away from the game, and I started testing it. I was good for one week not to touch a club, and then I was good for two weeks.”

As Lietzke tells it, the ultimate test came in 1983.

“That’s when my son was born,” he related. “I quit playing in August. The PGA was my last tournament. My wife was pregnant, and she couldn’t travel after August, so I stayed at home. I never played a tournament after the PGA. He was born in October, and my first tournament back was the Bob Hope, and that was five months, and I did not touch a golf club in those five months.

“Came back to the Bob Hope ... I shot 65-67, and then I pulled a muscle in my chest and I withdrew from tournament, went home and recovered from that, and I’m sure it was from the inactivity. And the next tournament I played was the Honda Classic, and I won. And that was it.

“That’s when I said, ‘Man, I’m on to something now ... I can take a month off or two months off or whatever.’ That was the one that finally proved it to me.”

Lietzke mentioned Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus and Fred Couples as golfers who took time off and didn’t mess around with their swings.

Then he turned his attention to Tiger Woods: “If we could go find his 2000 swing, do you think Tiger would like to have his 2000 swing back? I think he would.

“He might tell you ... he thinks it was too violent of a swing for his knee. I’m betting he would take that 2000 swing back, and that’s exactly what I would tell him, that you have found a swing and you can put the ball in the fairway and you can knock it on the green. You don’t need to go looking for other stuff.

“He was already the greatest at it. Yeah, I could talk to Tiger about that.”

And that’s the world according to Bruce Lietzke, professional golfer and amateur sports psychologist.

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