The biggest problem I have," said the Senior tour's leading money winner, "is I haven't figured out the eating." As if to prove his point, Bruce Fleisher released a handful of goldfish crackers on the white tablecloth and stared at them. He picked up one and popped it in his mouth. He moved a couple of others to make a more pleasing tableau.
The problem, he said, was that as a consistent contender on the Senior tour, on which he has won nine tournaments in 14 months, he keeps getting tee times that are elevenish. In his previous life as a consistent nonwinner on the PGA Tour (one victory in more than 400 tries), Fleisher usually drew early-morning or mid-morning times on the weekends—perfect for squeezing in a relaxing round between breakfast and lunch. "Now I tee off at 11 or 11:30," he said. "I don't eat, and by three I'm drained."
He took a swig from his Dr Pepper bottle and culled two more goldfish from the school on the table. Johnnie Cochran never made a stronger case. "You don't realize it," Fleisher said. "You're starving your brain. You get light-headed."
This conversation took place last Saturday after Fleisher had completed the second of three rounds at the LiquidGolf.com Open in Sarasota, Fla. He said he was tired, and he looked tired. His face was almost as gray as his hair. After rounds of 66-69 on the par-72 TPC at Prestancia course, he trailed the second-round leader, Bruce Summerhays, by only four strokes, and Tom Wargo, who would win in a playoff with Gary McCord and J.C. Snead, by just one. But Fleisher didn't look as if he were ready to make a Sunday charge. On the back nine he had gotten faint whenever he bent over. He could have used the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches his wife, Wendy, sometimes makes for him to carry in his bag. But Wendy was back home in Ballen Isles, Fla.
"The other thing I haven't figured out," he said, "is how much golf I want to play." That should be easy. All Fleisher has to do is decide how many times he wants to win this year and then multiply that by 4.11, his tournaments-entered-per-win average since he joined the Senior tour a year ago. To match the seven wins of his rookie-of-the-year and player-of-the-year season, Fleisher would have to enter 29 tournaments in 2000. Assuming, of course, that his play doesn't slip because of the distractions.
Did we mention the distractions? Fleisher's real problem is the four-line telephone in his home office. It rings all the time. The fax machine never stops running. The biggest annoyance, and he good-naturedly blamed AT&T for it last week, is call-waiting—mat annoying click-click that interrupts a conversation, forcing you to start a second conversation while the other phone buttons are flashing and the fax is chattering, until finally, as he explained with a rueful smile, "your brain blows up."
The problem is that Fleisher, for his first 50 years, was an easygoing, approachable guy, the sort of fellow who winks at kids, indulges bores and signs the odd autograph for the even odder autograph seeker. "I made hundreds and hundreds of friends," he said, staring glumly at the goldfish. Now his hundreds of friends, thrilled by his career turnaround, phone him or write him whenever he wins a tournament. Or loses a tournament. Last Friday night Fleisher called home and learned that he had 50 more letters and calls to answer, most of them from people too decent to snub. "I've got an unlisted number that everybody seems to know," he said. "It's just overwhelming." Another goldfish disappeared.
McCord, the mustachioed CBS golf analyst, laughs when asked about Fleisher's "problem." McCord won twice as a Senior rookie last year, shocking the world even more than Fleisher did. He knows what it's like to walk around with a pleasantly startled look on your face.
"Bruce still can't believe what he's doing," McCord says. "He has guys coming at him who were show ponies on the big Tour"—such as two-time Senior tour player of the year Hale Irwin and recently arrived stars Tom Kite, Lanny Wadkins and Tom Watson—"and for years he was eating their dust Only now he can handle them." McCord lifted his eyebrows in wonderment. "Actually, Bruce has just the game you want on this tour. He's one of the straightest drivers we have. He's wonderful inside 100 yards. He's a very good putter, and he has a good golf brain."
Trouble is, by humbling the players who used to lodge about 70 spots above him on the money list, Fleisher shatters the Senior tour's marketing plan. He is an amiable guy, clued in and mordantly funny, but on the course he's as animated as a ball washer.