REDMOND - In 1975, Pat Fitzsimons won the Los Angeles Open and took home $30,000.
Now called the Nissan Open, that same tournament awarded $918,000 to this year's winner.
Times have certainly changed since Fitzsimons, now 55, spent six years on the PGA Tour in the 1970s, a stint that included appearances in 1975 and 1976 at the Masters, where he made the cut both years.
”I have some real good memories, but it was hard,” Fitzsimons said on Tuesday at Eagle Crest Resort, shortly after he shot a 75 in the first round of the Oregon Open Invitational. ”There wasn't a lot of money, and it was a struggle.”
After a somewhat inconsistent PGA career in which he said he struggled with his putting and subsequently lost his confidence, Fitzsimons moved to Central Oregon and was an assistant professional at Black Butte Ranch from 1979 to 1980.
Raised in Salem, Fitzsimons bounced around the Northwest as a club professional and came back to Central Oregon in 1987, when he became the head pro at Prineville Golf and Country Club, where he stayed until 1990.
Now a teaching professional at the The Palms Golf Club in Palm Springs, Calif., Fitzsimons still plays in the Pacific Northwest Section PGA Tournaments - including the Oregon Open, which he won in 1990 in Sunriver, 22 years after winning it as a teenage amateur in Astoria in 1968. He is also a five-time runner-up in the tournament.
In 2000, Fitzsimons was on his way to earning a one-year status on the Senior PGA Tour in a qualifying tournament. He was in the top 10 and needed only to make par on the 72nd hole.
But he made an 8.
”That was traumatic,” Fitzsimons recalled. ”I really needed to make it (the Senior PGA Tour), and it was a disaster.
”The nice thing about golf is you never know what will happen the next day. Golf's like boxing: You're always picking yourself up off the canvas.”
After shooting a 75 at Eagle Crest's Ridge course on Tuesday, Fitzsimons said he doesn't think he has a shot this week to win his third Oregon Open championship. The tournament continues today and concludes Thursday, when the 208-player field is cut to the low 70 players (and ties).
”I have to shoot two very low scores (to win),” Fitzsimons said. ”You'll need to shoot 8 or 9 under (par). This course is a little different. There might be a surprise winner. The greens are slow and soft, so it takes a lot of patience.”
Fitzsimons, who lives with his wife in Palm Springs and has two children from a previous marriage who live in Portland, has flourished in PNWPGA tournaments. But he said he often thinks back to his time on the PGA Tour.
”In those days, if you were 100th (on the money list), you were losing money,” Fitzsimons said. ”And I was far away from home. I had to make a choice and I loved the Northwest. You have to face reality sometime in your late 20s. I tried. I gave it a fair test and had some great experiences.”
OREGON OPEN UNDER WAY
REDMOND - Doug Hixson of Quail Valley Golf Club in Banks fired a 6-under-par 66 on Tuesday to take the lead after the first round of the Oregon Open Invitational at Eagle Crest Resort's Ridge Course.
Hixson is ahead by one over Louie Runge of Willapa Harbor Golf Club in Raymond, Wash.
In third with a 68 are Ryan Benzel of Seattle Golf Club, Scott Krieger of Broadmoor Golf Club in Portland, and Mark Keating of Keating's School of Golf in Eugene.
The Oregon Open is a Pacific Northwest Section PGA Tournament that includes a 208-player field of club amateurs and professionals from across the section's Northwest region.
The 54-hole, stroke-play tournament continues today with tee times ranging from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. off the No. 1 and No. 10 tees.
For Thursday's final round, the field will be cut to the low 70 players (and ties).
For more information, visit www.pnwpga.com.
1, Doug Hixson 66
2, Louie Runge 67
3, Ryan Benzel 68
3, Scott Krieger 68
3, Mark Keating 68