Bruce Lietzke was a golfing prodigy.
"I remember a tournament once, in Bryan, Tex., when I was in the eighth grade and shot a career 71," he was saying. "There was a seventh grader who shot 72 -- and I remember wondering to myself: 'Who is this runt?'"
He was Ben Crenshaw.
"The tournament was open to most ages," Lietzke added, "and here's two junior high kids doing better than the high schoolers. I figured I'd really drill this Crenshaw kid the second round.
"So I shoot 80 -- and he shoots 68."
They followed the usual path to golfing glory, the preteen tournaments, the high school matches and the elite collegiate circuit, Lietzke at Houston and Crenshaw at Texas. But there was one interruption: after college, Lietzke threw his clubs into a closet and quit.
He was burned out, temporarily at least. There had been too much golf too soon, not enough time beyond the rough. He needed to know if there was life after a triple bogey.
"I didn't feel like improving my game," he said, knowing the extraordinary work necessary to progress from excellent collegian to solvent touring pro: consistent course management, coping with the often nomadic existence.
"I knew in the back of my mind I'd be back," he said. "but I needed to get away for a while."
Lietzke returned to his hometown, Beaumont, Tex., and took a job as a security guard in the plant where his father worked. Six months later he again was devoted to golf. What drove him back onto the fairways?
"Graveyard shifts," he said.
Still, golf has not totally captured Lietzke, not taken his personality in return for a comfortable living. He can concentrate on his game withoug his eyes being riveted to where his next step will be. He takes time to examine those curious creatures beyond the ropes who pay to watch him -- and time to wonder where his special skills will take him.
When he is playing well, Lietzke surely is as agreeable a playing companion as anyone could imagine. He won the Colonial Invitation on May 18 -- stopping Tom Watson's winning streak at three -- but had the courtesy, during the final 36-hole round, to congratulate both Watson and Crenshaw for shots that might have beaten him.
He and Crenshaw are extremely close friends, having competed so often as wonderchildren in Texas. So it was quite natural he could applaud Crenshaw's escapes from places humans usually are not allowed without guides.
If Crenshaw is not flailing at the cursed ball in a fairway trap or inventing some shot through the tiniest opening in the tallest wide tree, he is not giving his fans what they paid precious money to see.
On the 12th hole at Colonial, Crenshaw hit a long iron off hardpan, over a greenside trap, and somehow made the ball stop obediently 12 feet from the pin. A seemingly certain bogey had become a possible birdie -- and Watson and Lietzke, with better tee shots, would again putt first.
"Ol' Ben done got it closer'n any of 'em again," a veteran Crenshaw watcher said.
But ol' Lietzke won the tournament, by a stroke, when on perhaps the next-to-last revolution his birdie putt dropped into the cup from 25 feet. He immediately tried to fly, flapping his putter up and down. And when he returned to earth -- mentally as well as physically -- he took a serious look at the top of his profession and asked himself if he wanted to be there.
"Sometimes I feel sorry for guys like Nicklaus and Watson, with all the demands on their time," he said. "I feel sorry for 'em when I'm in my bass boat fishing. I can't imagine what life at the top must be like.
"But I've read where Larry Nelson said he'd like to win $150,000 a year and not be recognized. I can't be like that. They (Nicklaus and Watson) had to make an adjustment. You have to make an adjustment at every level of golf."
He paused a moment and said: "I'd like to be considered one of the great players." He thought he could make one last major adjustment.
REBUTTAL -- Coach Wil Jones, angry at my suggestion the other day that Earl Jones would be better off turning pro than attending a Division II school such as the University of the District of Columbia:
"Who is the man who innovated modern guard play?" Jones said. "Earl Monroe. And where did he go to school? Little Winston-Salem State. Who is the highest-scoring guard in basketball now?George Gervin. Did he go to a big-name school?
"Walt Frazier went to Southern Illinois. Julius Erving went to the University of Massachusetts. And who's Kentucky had lately who has done exceptionally well in the pros? Or UCLA beyond Abdul-Jabbar and Walton?
"I'd like to be Division 2, but to do it 85 percent of my schedule has to be against Division I teams. But nobody'll play me.
"Let me tell you. He will be a first-round draft choice no matter where he plays. Earl Jones has a doctorate in the game of basketball."
REMINDER -- Freddy Merkle of Lanham writes, "It occurs to me that ever since Wild Bill Hagy has been recognized for his cheerleader act, the following misfortunes have occurred following his participation:
"1979-80 Maryland basketball -- lost ACC championship.
"1979 Baltimore Orioles -- lost World Series.
"1979-80 Bullets -- lost in NBA playoffs.
"1980 Baltimore Orioles -- presently near the AL cellar."
REALITY -- The NCAA suspects that while Oklahoma's Billy Sims was the only one who publicly admitted having an agent before collegiate eligibility expired last year, between 20 and 50 others violated the no-agent policy.