When the Ben Hogan Tour began in 1990, there was a familiar player on the membership roster, and early that season in Fort Myers, Florida, he showed up to play his first tournament. Some knew who he was. The name rang a bell to others. But to many of the younger, up-and-coming players who were milling about the Gateway Golf Club range, however, this tall “older” player with the sweet swing was just another anonymous competitor. They found out soon enough.
Although he hadn’t played in any of the first eight events that opened that inaugural season of a circuit that today is known as the Korn Ferry Tour, Bruce Fleisher made his debut in the Gateway Open, in April 1990. At the 54-hole tournament on Florida’s west coast, Fleisher showed off, tying for second with a long-driving player from Arkansas named John Daly. The duo came up just short, losing in a playoff to Ted Tryba.
Fleisher had returned from anonymity to contend at almost golf’s highest level. He longed to step up one more rung on the ladder, and the runner-up performance let him know he could. Fleisher’s seemingly out-of-nowhere performance that week in Fort Myers came after he essentially walked away from competitive golf six years earlier, electing to become a club pro and only playing a PGA TOUR tournament here and there. Too many lonely nights in hotel rooms away from his wife, Wendy, led to the decision. But more importantly, an abundance of missed cuts and weeks with no paydays played the primary role. This all transpired even though the former U.S. Amateur champ and U.S. Walker Cup team member had joined the TOUR with significant credentials, a beautiful swing and an expectation that he would compete, and win, against contemporaries Lanny Wadkins, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw. Instead, in 13 full seasons between 1972 and 1984, Fleisher never did hold up a trophy, as he did at the 1968 Amateur.
Bruce Fleisher, statements
“This is crazy. I’ve been away from the TOUR for more than seven years,” he said after accepting the $180,000 first-place check, easily the largest payday of his career at the time. There would be plenty more lucrative weeks. Following seven more full-time PGA TOUR seasons, and one more close call—a runner-up showing at a familiar place and tournament, the 1993 New England Classic, Fleisher patiently waited until he turned 50, in October 1998, to begin Act 4. “I never dreamed I’d be doing what I’m doing. Well, I dreamed I’d do it. But I never dreamed it would happen like this. It’s a wonderful place to be,” he said.