Golf's most eligble bachelor, Bruce (I'm Available, Lietzke, walked off the eighth green at La Quinta, on the way to his 26th straight par-or-better round. One of the many young women in the gallery, a striking brunette, turned to a friend and asked: "That name. It's German, isn't it?"
"I don't know," the friend replied, "but as far as I'm concerned, a big, good-looking guy like that with lng black wavy hair, and the way he's playing - he can be anything he wants to be, including married."
Obviously, Lietzke is making a handsome name for himself on the PGA tour. He won the Tucson and the Hawaiian opens, finished second in the Desert Classic, and leads the money-won list with $123,350 in his fourth year as a professional and third year on the traveling squad.
Lietzke pronounced Litzkey has not been over par since Oct. 2. In the third round of the Sahara Invitational he shot 76.Since, he has been 75 strokes under the standard figures during his sensational streak.
No one on the PGA tour is absolutely sure Lietzke has set a record. "We believe it is, and the PGA has no records showing otherwise," says public information director Tom Place. "The previous high anyone can remember was Johnny Miller, with 23 rounds, on the winter tour two years ago."
Lietzke has the build of an athlete, unlike many pro-golfers. At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds the 25-year-old nonswinger ("I'm a stay-at-home; my closest friends on the tour are married") from Beaumont, Texas, physically has the size to have been a halfback instead of a golfer at the University of Houston. And his game is power.
"My fade has left me," Lietzke moaned several times last week, but his driving distance and the accuracy were excellent on La Quinta's narrow fairways. He attacked all the par-five holes on his second shots, including the 556-yard 11th.
Lietzke's swing is smooth. He putts cross-handed. His long-iron play was poor Saturday, excellent Sunday. His short game was ordinary both days.
There is at least one mental hangup surrounding the young golfer. He has a phobia about "fliers"; talks about them all the time, good rounds or bad.
"I go down on the ball very hard with my irons," Lietzke noted. "I mean I come down real hard. So I have this tendency to hit fliers even with the best of lies. Saturday, when the fairway grass was long, my ball was nestling in there all day. I'm always afraid, when that happens, of catching the ball clean on the club fact, hitting it as high as I do.
'When my lies are setting down like that I tend to 'steer' a lot of my irons, instead of really going after the hole. I play defensively, going for the middle of the green with my seven or eight irons. I guess maybe I shouldn't do it, but I do."
Lest anyone think Lietzke has a fear of flying, Massengale acknowledged he had much the same problem Saturday.
"When the grass is that thick - there's more blades of grass - and the ball's sitting down in the grass you can't get any back spin on it," Massengale said. "The ball just jumps out, like a knuckle ball sometimes five yards farther, sometimes 15 yards. But that's kind of fairways we get a lot of up north."
Lietzke, accordingly, might have trouble in the east this summer. Certainly he had trouble there following an excellent start last winter, missing the cut five times and failing to qualify in two other of the next 13 tournaments.
This year's winners have been exceptionally young. Jerry Pate, 23, last year's U.S. and Canadian Open champion, won the Phoenix, Lietzke is 25. Tom Watson, who captured the Tucson and the Crosby, is 27. Massengale turned 30 the Sunday before the Hope began.
The Old Guard hasn't gotten anything but hot and sweaty. Yet it would be premature to suggest that this is the year for the changing of the elite guard. Many veterans have been either absent or ailing this winter. They'll be back. Remember, old pro Jack Nicklaus wound up with $266,438 and first place on the money list again last season.
but Nicklaus, at his best, would have been hard-pressed to tame the young bucks in the particular tournaments they have won this winter. Lietzke was 13 under at Tucson, Watson 14 under at Pebble Beach and 19 under at Torrey Pines, with Lietzke 14 under at Waialae and Massengale and Lietzke 23 and 17 under, respectively over the Desert Classic's four courses.
"I'm not about to make any rash predictions about the future," Lietzke said. "I'm tickled to death with the way I've played. I'm proud of the string I've put together.
Now, his main concern is his father.
"Dad was always the guy giving me a boost when I needed it," he said. "Dad and Mom. I remembered my father once telling me he would quit playing if his little boy ever beat him.
"Well, my brother Bruce had started me out with a set of cut-down clubs when I was 5 years old. Bruce was an assistant professional in Wichita, Kan. When I was 8 I beat my dad one day. My dad hasn't played since." Lietzke made a name for himself as a high school and college player in Texas, in Beaumont and at the University of Houston. By the spring of 1973, at 22, he was tired of the game and announced his retirement for six months. He turned professional in 1974, entering the tour's qualifying school in the fall and missed earning his card by one stroke. He returned to the school in the spring of 1975 and made the grade. A fourth-place effort in the Westchester Classic that year convinced him he belonged.
"I don't know if I'll play in the Los Angeles Open this week or not," Lietzke said shortly after the Desert Classic. "My father is being transfered from a hospital in Beaumont to one in Houston. He has emphysema and the diuretic which has been helping him when he was with me early this year quit being effective. He's all swollen."
So Lietzke's string of rounds at par or under may have to wait before being extended or broken.
Meanwhile, Lietzke has reason to smile, which he does often. He already has qualified, along with Nicklaus (the defending, champion) and Watson (the tour's only other multiple winner) for the World Series of Golf in September. He is making friends as fast as he is making birdie putts, and he's having fun being available as the best catch on the tour since Ben Crenshaw broke hearts not too long ago by getting married. Things could be worse.[Chart Omitted]