Pro golfer Bruce Fleisher, a longtime Palm Beach Gardens resident, died Thursday after a long battle with cancer. He was 72.
Few golfers enjoyed the PGA Tour Champions second chance more than Fleisher. After winning only once on the PGA Tour in more than 400 attempts, he won his first two starts on the 50-and-older circuit in 1999 and won a total of 18 titles, including the US Senior Open in 2001.
“I played against Bruce when he got home from the regular tour and it was like he’d never missed a green or a fairway,” said Roger Kennedy Sr., a Stuart resident and PGA professional who at played the PGA Tour Champions. “When he turned 50, I told him the only guy who could beat him on the Champions Tour was Lee Trevino. I knew he would clean up. “
“But forget the golf. What I remember most about Bruce is that he was the cutest guy in the world. He was just nice to everyone. No ego. “
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Fleisher also got a second chance in life when he skipped the 2002 US Open and instead received a free checkup during a PGA Tour Champions event in Vanderbilt that was found to have prostate cancer. Fleisher’s father Herb also died of cancer at the age of 72.
Nicknamed “The Flash”, Fleisher was introduced to the sport at 7 when he and his two older brothers started playing with his two older brothers while they lived in Wilmington, NC. The family moved to Miami when he was 14 and started his game.
He won the US Amateur at Scioto Country Club in 1968 when he was 19 (the third youngest then) and that earned him a place in the 1969 Masters, where he was a low amateur, beating Arnold Palmer by four punches in the first round. Fleisher, who was Jewish, also won the individual and team titles at the Maccabiah Games in 1969.
He earned his spot on the PGA Tour by making it through the acclaimed Q School at BallenIsles Country Club in 1971, which included Hall of Famers Tom Watson and Lanny Wadkins, as well as David Graham, John Mahaffey and Steve Melnyk.
Despite his success as an amateur, Fleisher struggled to stay on the PGA Tour and eventually became a PGA professional based in South Florida. He won the South Florida PGA Professional Championship twice (1981 and 1987) and dominated the local mini-tours.
Fleisher’s only win on the PGA Tour came in 1991 at the New England Classic when he defeated Ian Baker-Finch in a playoff at the age of 42. Baker-Finch would win the British Open next week.
The 50th birthday at the end of 1998 gave Fleisher reason to celebrate. He won his first two starts, in Key Biscayne and Napoli, and would have won a third in a row if he hadn’t gotten sick finishing second in Tampa. Phil Mickelson was the only player who matched Fleisher’s one-two last year.
Because of his lack of success on the PGA Tour, Fleisher had to go to Q-School to get one of five spots on the 50-and-older tour. Fleisher complained to then PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem about the closed nature of the PGA Tour Champions.
“He said, Bruce, if you are good enough you can get out of here,” said Fleisher. “I think I’m good enough.”
His wife, Wendy, said Fleisher’s biggest weakness was his lack of self-confidence. She used to hide newspaper stories that might contain negative things about her husband.
“For some reason Bruce never thought he was as good as everyone else thought,” said Wendy after winning the 2001 US Senior Open. “Whether he sees it or not, he has to deal with it himself.”
Fleisher made almost ten times more ($ 14.9 million) on the PGA Tour Champions than on the PGA Tour (1.7 million). The family bought a house in BallenIsles – the site of his 1971 q-School success – and lived there for more than 15 years. He took part in the 50th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus’ 1971 PGA victory at BallenIsles on February 28th.
“He was a master at giving members free range tips,” said Jeff Fitzherbert, golf director of BallenIsles. “He was just nice, considerate and very approachable. As a former club professional, it was nice to talk to him about the golf business. “
In 2017, Fleisher was inducted into the Greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame.
“Bruce was the consummate professional,” his brother Jerry told USGA. “He shaved every day. He always had a crease in his pants. He was a proud member of the Champions Tour. “
Fleisher leaves behind his wife, Wendy, daughter Jessica Jones, son-in-law Jason Jones, grandson Jake, older brothers Les and Jerry, and sister Karen.