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Only 2 Strokes Away From the PGA Tour Cut : Golf: After two years of playing with the best, Greg Bruckner will have to watch much of the action in 1992.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mira Costa High graduate Greg Bruckner was hoping to make 1992 his breakthrough year on the professional golf tour.

But Bruckner, 32, played poorly in the Professional Golfers’ Assn. qualifying tournament that concluded last week in Haines City, Fla. He finished two shots out of the running with a six-round score of 431.

The tournament featured players who did not finish in the top 125 on the PGA Tour money list in 1991, which is the cutoff for players to automatically retain their tour cards. Bruckner finished 151st and had hoped to qualify for the tour for the third year in a row.

Mike Standly won the tournament with a score of 412. Bruckner shot an opening-round 76, which proved to be his undoing.

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“I was one under par on the front side and five over on the back,” Bruckner said.

He played well the next two rounds and made the cut after the fourth round. Bruckner scored well on the front side again, and was five under par after 14 holes. His charge was slowed, however, when there was a delay in play.

“My rhythm left me during the delay,” said Bruckner, who was three over par on the final five holes.

Bruckner shot even par in the fifth round and knew he needed to break par on Monday’s final round in order to improve his position. At one point during the final round he was three under par, but bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes, including a missed three-foot putt for par on 17, ended any hopes he had of shooting 429.

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“I was kind of in shock when I missed that putt on 17,” Bruckner said.

Bruckner, who has earned more than $133,000 during his PGA career, thinks he will still be able to play in 12 to 18 PGA events next year. He may try to qualify for the Phoenix Open in late January, and will probably play in the AT & T tournament in the Pebble Beach area the next week.

He hopes to receive a sponsors’ exemption that would allow him to play in the Los Angeles Open that begins March 1st. Other options available to Bruckner would be playing on a five-week Asian tour that begins in mid-February, and entering some of the events that are on the Ben Hogan tour. The Hogan tour is for players who do not qualify for regular PGA events.

Although he will not be able to play in as many PGA tournaments as he did this year (32), Bruckner feels that once he gets on the course, ’92 will still be a successful year.

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“Next year is going to be totally different,” Bruckner said. “I’m going to approach (the tour) in a more businesslike fashion. I’ll play the round, practice, then get off the course. I’ve been to most of the tour stops twice and now know where to go to catch a movie and do other things.”

During his two years on the tour, Bruckner, who won the Singapore Open and Rolex Masters in 1988 during a stint on the Asian tour, has never finished better than 14th. At the Memphis tournament in June, after shooting 67-67, Bruckner was paired with Hal Sutton in the second to last group. Saturday’s results were not what Bruckner had envisioned.

“I started out double-bogey, bogey, while Sutton was starting out birdie, birdie, birdie,” he said. “My bad start (to the round) buried me. I’ve never really had the feeling that I’ve got a chance to win, never really been in the heat on the tour.”

For the past five years, Bruckner has taken lessons from Chuck Courtney, the head pro at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club. Courtney says that Bruckner has the potential to be successful on tour.

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“He hits the ball too well not to succeed,” Courtney said. “He justs needs some seasoning, some maturity. He is a super ball-striker, and he drives it straight and long. Greg just needs to be more competitive with his short game.”

Although he has yet to finish in the top 10 in a PGA tournament, Bruckner feels relaxed during an event.

“To tell you the truth, I thought that I’d be a lot more nervous playing the game,” Bruckner said. One of his initial fears, he said, was hitting gallery members.

“I expected hitting a lot more people. I’ve drilled (a few),” he said. “I hit a 72-year-old lady in Flint, Michigan. She was standing behind the green and the ball hit her, first on the shin, and then on the foot. She was bleeding from both places.” The ball settled on the fringe, and Bruckner, who said he was so upset that he was shaking, was able to save par with a four-foot putt.

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Bruckner has hit his share of bad shots during tournament play, but is not really bothered by them.

“I’ve shanked it, hit it fat, topped it, hit it out of bounds, hit it in the water, hit people, I’ve done everything (on the course). The gallery just laughs a little bit. They say, ‘Man, he does that too.’ Most people kind of want to see you do something bad that they can (relate) to their game.”

In the final PGA tour statistics, Bruckner finished 72nd in driving distance, 67th in greens in regulation and 80th in birdies. These statistics placed him in the top 50% on the tour. But he was 178th in putting, 126th in sand saves, and 177th in third-round scores.

He realizes that he must improve around the greens if he is to be more competitive on the tour.

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“If you took all the stats from the year, I would be average or a little bit above average in all except putting and sand saves. Jay Haas gave me a bunker-shot lesson, and I think I improved. Physically, I’m there. I don’t want to blame everything on putting. I have my good and bad days.”

According to Bruckner, the worst part of the tour is dealing with caddies.

“I’m not a very good employer,” Bruckner said. “I’m not good at telling a caddy what to do. I just want my caddy to be quiet and help with the yardage. In the qualifying school, we get to take carts. I love carts. I can yell at the cart, kick the cart. Nobody is telling me what club I should hit. Man, if I could carry my own bag (on tour), I’d do it.”

Bruckner’s father, Ron, who coached baseball at Mira Costa in the mid-'70s, caddies for his son each year at the L.A. Open. He said it is quite a thrill.

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“It’s easier watching him play as a caddy,” Ron said. “I get closer to the action, and get to be more involved, hear the caddies talking.”

Greg only allows his father to caddy once a year.

“It would drive me absolutely nuts to have him caddy for me every week,” Greg said. “Although we get along really well, we argue a lot (on the course). He can’t understand why I’m doing this, I can’t understand why he’s in my way. He’s gotten a lot better, though.”

Mike Erlinger, a longtime friend of Bruckner’s, has caddied eight times for the golfer on the West Coast portion of the tour.

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Erlinger, who calls caddies “the lowest form of life” on the tour, worked for Bruckner six times in 1990 and twice this year.

“I tried to stay out of his way,” Erlinger said. “After all, he’s got the clubs and I’ve got the bag. Seriously, though, he hits the ball as well as anybody on tour. The first year, because it was so new to us, we had a tough time reading some of the greens because we didn’t have any history to rely on.”

Although he has never been paired with any of the superstars on tour, Bruckner said he enjoys playing with “the California guys” such as Corey Pavin, Mark O’Meara and Scott Simpson. He doesn’t particularly enjoy being paired with players he terms “grinders.” He cites Chris Perry, who played with Bruckner at the L.A. Open this year.

“Perry’s hard on himself,” Bruckner said. “He just hits and walks when he is playing badly, because he doesn’t care (about his partners). I tried to be nice to him off the course, but it doesn’t matter. If he’s playing badly, he can drag me down too.”

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