During the eight-hole playoffs at the Travelers Championship last Sunday, Gary Young couldn’t help but think about another long playoff 30 years ago.
At the New England Classic 1991, the former PGA Tour in Pleasant Valley CC in Sutton, a playoff lasted seven holes.
Young, vice president of rules, competition, and administration for the PGA Tour, was tournament director for Travelers at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut, and in 1991 he was Assistant Golf Pro at PV.
Last Sunday, Harris English pocketed a 5 foot birdie putt on the eighth playoff hole to defeat Kramer Hickok for $ 1,368,000. In 1991 Bruce Fleisher rolled a 50-foot birdie putt on the seventh playoff hole to defeat Ian Baker-Finch for $ 180,000.
“It was almost surreal to think that many years later,” said Young, “I would be the person in charge of running a playoff that was eerily similar and Ian Baker-Finch would call the action on CBS.”
Baker-Finch was a CBS sports spokesperson for the Travelers, so his thoughts returned to his 1991 playoff defeat. He spoke to Fleisher about his defeat on the show and mentioned that Young was working at PV at the time.
“It was awfully nice of him to mention that,” said Young.
Young, 55, of Millbury, was selling merchandise at the PV Pro Shop when the 1991 playoffs began. Head Pro Bobby Molt told Young and a few others to enjoy the playoff if it reached the third hole.
“We drew for Baker-Finch in the beginning because he was a big name,” recalls Young, “and would be a great champion for our event, but after seeing the great punches and clutch putts from both of them, you had to give it to Bruce as the better man that day. “
Missing putts of 7 and 15 feet on the first two playoff holes in 1991, Baker-Finch bounced back from his disappointing playoff loss by winning the British Open the following week.
“Maybe Kramer can win something big in the near future,” said Young.
Baker-Finch never won again, but he has a long career as a golf broadcaster. Another successful golf speaker also finished second at PV for a year. NBC’s David Feherty missed a 25-foot birdie putt on 18 to get a shot behind champ Kenny Perry in the 1994 New England Classic.
Young worked at PV for 22 years, including the last 12 as Head Pro before joining the PGA Tour in 2007 as a rules officer.
The Travelers had the fifth eight-hole playoff of the PGA Tour. The only longer sudden death playoff was one of 11 holes at the Motor City Open in 1949, when Lloyd Mangrum and Cary Middlecoff were mutually declared co-winners due to the darkness.
Fleisher was an unlikely winner in 1991. It was his only win on the PGA Tour. He was 42 years old and had given up his club pro job the year before to try the PGA Tour again. He entered the field as the third and final deputy.
After his unlikely victory, Fleisher remarked, “This is insane. I was off the tour for more than seven years. I’m tired and hungry and still nervous. “
Fleisher won the US Amateur in 1968, but left the PGA Tour after 13 winless seasons in his first stint on the Tour.
Fleisher was much more successful on the Champions Tour, which is now called PGA Tour Champions. He won 18 tournaments for golfers aged 50 and over, including the 2001 US Senior Open at Salem CC in Peabody. In 2017 the US Senior Open returned to Salem CC and Perry took the title.
Baker-Finch mentioned on the CBS broadcast that the 72-year-old Fleisher was in poor health. He might have felt better watching the Travelers and talking to Baker-Finch about his win at PV.
—Contact Bill Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ BillDoyle15.