Professional golfer Bruce Fleisher, a longtime Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, resident, died Thursday after a long battle with cancer. He was 72.
Few golfers enjoyed the second-chance nature of the PGA Tour Champions more than Fleisher. After winning just once on the PGA Tour in more than 400 tries, he won his first two starts on the 50-and-older circuit in 1999 and claimed 18 total titles, including the 2001 U.S. Senior Open.
“I played against Bruce when he came home from the regular tour and it was like he never missed a green or a fairway,” said Roger Kennedy Sr., a Stuart resident and PGA Professional who played on 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 was going to clean up.”
“But forget about the golf. The thing I remember most about Bruce was he was the sweetest guy in the world. He was just nice to everybody. No ego whatsoever.”
Fleisher also got a second chance in life when he skipped the 2002 U.S. Open and instead received a free physical at Vanderbilt during a Champions event that revealed he had prostate cancer. Fleisher’s father, Herb, also died of cancer when he was 72.
Nicknamed “Flash,” Fleisher was introduced to the sport at age seven when he started caddying with his two older brothers when they lived in Wilmington, North Carolina. The family moved to Miami when he was 14 and his game started to take off.
He won the 1968 U.S. Amateur at Scioto Country Club when he was 19 (third-youngest at the time) and that got him a spot into the 1969 Masters, where he was low amateur and beat Arnold Palmer in the first round by four shots. Fleisher, who was Jewish, also won the individual and team titles at the 1969 Maccabiah Games.
He earned his spot on the PGA Tour by making it through the celebrated 1971 Q-school at BallenIsles Country Club that 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 lone victory on the PGA Tour came at the 1991 New England Classic, when at 42 he beat Ian Baker-Finch in a playoff. Baker-Finch would win the British Open the next week.
Turning 50 in late 1998 gave Fleisher reason to celebrate. He won his first two starts, at Key Biscayne and Naples, and would have won a third in a row had he not got sick when he finished second in Tampa. Phil Mickelson last year became the only player to match Fleisher’s double-victory start.
Because of his lack of success on the PGA Tour, Fleisher had to go to Q-school to earn one of five spots on the 50-and-older tour. Fleisher complained to then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem about the closed-door nature of the Champions.
“He said, Bruce, if you’re good enough, you’ll get out here,’” Fleisher said. “I guess I’m good enough.”
His wife, Wendy, said Fleisher’s biggest weakness was his lack of confidence. She used to hide newspaper stories that might have included anything negative about her husband.
“For some reason, Bruce has never thought he was as good as everyone else thought he was,” Wendy said after he won the 2001 U.S. Senior Open. “Whether he sees it or not, he has to deal with that in his own mind.”
Fleisher earned almost 10 times more on the PGA Tour Champions ($14.9 million) than he made on the PGA Tour ($1.7 million). The family bought a home in BallenIsles – site of his ’71 q-school success – and lived there for more than 15 years. He attended the 50-year anniversary of Jack Nicklaus’ 1971 PGA victory at BallenIsles on Feb. 28.
“He was a master of giving free tips on the range to the members,” said Jeff Fitzherbert, BallenIsles’ director of golf. “He was just kind, considerate and very approachable. Being 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 pro,” his brother Jerry told the USGA. “He shaved every day. He always had a crease in his pants. He was a proud member of the Champions Tour.”
Fleisher is survived by his wife, Wendy, daughter Jessica Jones, son-in-law Jason Jones, grandson Jake, older brothers Les and Jerry and sister Karen.