When Fleisher shot 73 in the second round last week, he ended a streak of 16 subpar rounds. "Bruce is in that little inner sanctum of playing well, and he's been in it the whole year," said McCord. "Most of us are outside that sanctum trying to get in. If Bruce shoots 71 or 72, that's a freak show for him. He's used to shooting 67, 68. Sports psychiatrists call it the zone. He's pretty much been baptized in the zone this year, just like Hale Irwin was last year."
There is no real secret to Fleisher's success. On the regular Tour he was a short, low-ball hitter up against long, high-ball hitters such as Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman. On the Senior tour all you've got to do to be successful is hit the ball reasonably straight, wield a deadly wedge and putt like a 30-year-old. That describes Fleisher's game. On the PGA Tour he was good enough around the greens to hang in there with much younger players and, once he turned 50, lead the Senior tour in putting, which allowed him to beat his peers like a set of congas.
For Fleisher the most difficult aspect of the season was dealing with everything that came with his success. A humble man whose lack of confidence may have held him back in the past, Fleisher found the extra attention unnerving at first. "I've always been intimidated by Raymond Floyd, a guy who's won Opens and Masters," says Fleisher. "Raymond has actually talked to me in the last few weeks—not that he snubbed me before. I got, 'Good playing, Bruce.' I liked that. To have my name mentioned in the same sentence with Hale Irwin's, a man who has been so successful his whole life, is wonderful."
The entire year has been a wonder. Fleisher never dreamed he would play in 32 events, but his outlook changed when he climbed to the top of the money list and entered uncharted territory as the man to beat. "He has never tried to be Number 1," Wendy says, "but once he and Hale were neck and neck, he wanted to achieve that. It wasn't because it was Hale Irwin. Bruce doesn't think he'll ever be a Hale Irwin. He just thought he might never get another chance to be Number 1, so he had to go for it."
Adding to the pressure was a $350,000 bonus in Fleisher's endorsement deal with Callaway if he finished atop the money list. The price of going for the gold? Last February, Fleisher was hospitalized with a viral infection and ended up missing four tournaments. He hasn't been home to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., in 15 weeks, so he hasn't enjoyed the new floors he put in his house or the high-tech thin-screen TV that hangs from a living room wall. "It has been a satisfying year," he says. "But fun? It hasn't been fun. It's been a lot of sweat. Television always has its eyeball on you. You're always dealing with your self-image, your ego. It's fun now because it's over. I just want to go home."
Wendy has been home only once in three months, stopping off for 12 hours after flying from Los Angeles to attend Payne Stewart's memorial service in Orlando. Wendy says Stewart's widow, Tracey, told her, "Don't waste a minute with Bruce."
Stewart's death still hurts Fleisher, who wears a pin on his lapel in Stewart's memory. Fleisher had a tough day last Friday when an old friend from Wilmington, N.C., where Fleisher grew up, came to watch him play. The friend is dying of cancer and was driven around the course in a cart. "When we saw him," Wendy says, "Bruce couldn't justify in his mind that we're having the best year of our lives."
That was just another stressed-out day in a stressed-out year that doesn't seem to end. The Fleishers left Myrtle Beach on Sunday night for an outing in Nashville. They're scheduled to go to Puerto Rico for this week's Senior Match Play Challenge. After that comes the Nov. 18-20 Callaway Invitational at Pebble Beach, followed by two days in Los Angeles to shoot a commercial and then—at last!—home for 10 days around Thanksgiving. Fleisher will play in the Diners Club Matches in December, and then he and Wendy will go on a weeklong Christmas cruise, a bonus for winning the Royal Caribbean Classic. About two weeks after that, the 2000 season kicks off.
There barely seems to be time to breathe, much less recharge the batteries and savor a career year. "When I sit down at Thanksgiving dinner with my whole family," Fleisher says, a smile creeping over his face, "that's when I'm going to say, 'Wow, what a special year.' "
Jessica will be there. She's 19 and a sophomore at Florida. "She thinks her father is the bomb," Wendy says. In teen-speak, that means he's great.