Bruce Lietzke claimed the $45,000 first prize in the Tucson Open golf tournament today, but Jim Thorpe won something almost as valuable.
Thorpe, of Falls Church, Va., won the respect of his colleagues, and the hearts of the huge galleries by battling into a tie for second in the $250,000 PGA event.
"It's my best finish in a tournament and I'm very pleased," said the long-hitting Thorpe. "If someone told me Thursday I'd tie for second, I wouldn't have played. I'd have taken it right there."
Lietzke fired a two-under-par 68 today despite pain from a stomach muscle torn on the final hole of Saturday's third pound.
His 15-under-par 265 over the short, 6,708-yard Randolph Municipal course gave him a two-stroke victory over Thorpe, defending champion Tom Watson and young Buddy Gardner, who tied for the day's low round with a 65.
"I had quite a few doubts whether I'd even play today," Lietzke said, adding that he has had the same injury in previous years. He was forced to withdraw from a tournament because of it two years ago.
"It hurt a little most of the day," he said. "I had to swing easy with the driver. Fortunately I did not have to hit a lot of long irons."
Lietzke, the 1977 Tucson Open champ, birdied the first hole, bogeyed the second, then eagled the 508-yard par-5 third. He reached the green in two and sank a 25-foot putt. He parred the final 15 holes.
"After No. 5, I hit every green," the 27-year-old Texan said. "I'm not very proud of my round. I had a lot of opportunities for birdies. I just didn't do it. I was lucky to win with 15 under. After the eagle, I set 17 or 18 under as my goal."
Six golfers came to within two strokes of Lietzke during the final round, but no one got closer. Watson missed birdie putts of under 10 feet on 14 and 18. Thorpe, battling the pressure of playing with Lietzke in the final threesome for the second straight day, missed a 12-footer on 16 and scrambled for par 4s on 17 and 18 to equal Lietzke's 68.
When Thorpe holed a five-foot putt to save par on 18, the gallery around the green gave him a prolonged ovation in recognition of his play this week.
"I hit the ball very, very well today," Thorpe said. "But I didn't putt as well as the first three days. I felt a lot of pressure coming home -- watching the scoreboard and knowing I was close. That put more pressure on me. I'm pleased to come in 13 under. I'm pleased I played well under pressure."
At age 30, the 212-pound former football player at Morgan State is considered a tour rookie because he requalified last fall. But he played the tour, poorly, in 1976, losing his card. After increasing his earnings for the year to more than $23,000, Thorpe is assured of retaining his tour card at least through next year.
"If I can keep my head as well as I have this year, I won't worry about keeping my card at all," he said. "I'd like to make the top 60 (money list) and get away from the Monday qualifying."
Lietzke was amazed at Thorpe's composure before the huge crowds and national television cameras.
"I expected to see some nervous, wild shots," Lietzke said. "But he hit maybe two yesterday and only one today. Thank goodness his putter was as cold as mine or he very easily could be sitting here (the winner) right now."
Entering the final round, Thorpe knew he probably would need a 66 or 67 to catch Lietzke. But he was not disappointed with his 68.
"After playing with Lietzke yesterday, I knew he'd be very, very hard to beat," Thorpe said. "I guess you always look back and think if you made one or two putts things would be different. But I have to think about the putts I made."
And for the second straight day, Thorpe admitted he tried to compete off the tee with the long-hitting Lietzke.
"After I turned in even par, I wanted to knock the cover off on the 10th hole," he said. "I almost whiffed it.
"I guess I just wanted it too badly."