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Blue-Collar Golfer : Rookie Pro Plans to Tend to Business on PGA Tour


Greg Bruckner wheeled the new off-green Honda Accord onto Highland Avenue in Manhattan Beach. Pink Floyd's song "Money" played over the radio--ironically, because Bruckner, a rookie on the Professional Golf Assn. tour, had just spent the better part of four hours talking about finances when he was supposed to discuss golf.

In professional golf, conceded the fair-haired, slightly balding Bruckner, it is difficult to talk about the game without money entering the conversation.

"The PGA is a business," he said. "It's kind of spooky. I haven't really grasped all of it yet."

Bruckner, 30, would have preferred to talk about the conditions on the public golf courses in Long Beach, about surfing El Porto or the neighborhood gatherings at Ercole's Bar in Manhattan Beach every Christmas Eve for the past 25 years. But dollars and sense always crept back into the conversation.

"Living in Manhattan Beach, people might think I grew up wealthy, but I did not," he said.

He is a working-class golfer, one of the few to grace the PGA tour. And because he was raised in Southern California, with its reputation for casual appearances, he said he was singled out at PGA qualifying school by tour administrators. They told him the Levi's-and-T-shirt image he was accustomed to while playing in the Asian tour is unacceptable. There will be fines for inappropriate attire at airports, in hotel lobbies and on golf courses.

"I'm a pretty conservative guy," Bruckner said. "But I come from an atmosphere where you wear jeans, T-shirts and tennis shoes to go out to dinner."

He must also score well in his first year or run the risk of having to qualify for his tour card all over again. He qualified this year, after four tries, at a PGA school in Houston, finishing in a tie for 10th out of 125 competitors. Only 50 made the cut to the big time.

"They tell me only four rookies finished in the top 125 last year on the tour," he said. "That's my goal."

Such raw enthusiasm seems out of place with the stodgy, good-ol'-boy image of the look-alike golfers seen on nationally televised PGA events.

"It's a gentleman's sport," Bruckner said. "You don't find too many guys on the pro tour who learned the game on the public courses like I did."

He taught himself, beginning at age 17 at Alondra Park near Lawndale and Torrance. He and his 6th Street buddies would hang out at the beach all day, then "play for beers" on the golf course in the late afternoon. For a while, Bruckner thought that was all there was to life.

"I was a typical kid in Southern California," he said.

A graduate of Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, he eventually made the El Camino College golf team and went on to play another two years at Arizona State University while completing a degree in broadcasting.

Bruckner hit the amateur tournament circuits and then, with a $5,000 loan from his parents, accepted an offer to play on the Asian professional tour, where he has four victories in four years to his credit.

More important, he scored well consistently half a world away, and his game has shown steady improvement. He boosted his earnings each year and paid off the loan to his folks.

"It makes me feel good that I don't owe anyone anything, except to my parents for supporting me," he said.

His attitude may help him as a pro in this country.

"He has great desire and determination," said Chuck Courtney, a teaching pro at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club near San Diego, who has worked with Bruckner. "He will do well (on the PGA tour). He's a streak putter. If he can get his putter going, he'll be OK."

Bruckner is a long, straight hitter, according to Courtney, and "a great kid." If there is such a thing, he said, Bruckner is a self-made professional.

"He started playing the game later than most of the people in the caliber of play he is in now," Courtney said. "Most kids at 17 who are where he is now were superstars by that age."

Bruckner has set high goals for 1990.

"I think I can make $200,000 next year," he said while eating a hamburger and french fries at one of his favorite Manhattan Avenue hangouts.

He doubts that he will have problems handling the pressure--and the polyester--of the PGA tour, which is steeped in genteel traditions rooted in the American South.

"I'm not out to buck the system," he said. "I just wear casual stuff. . . . I want to be me as much as I can."

Because of his successes on the Asian tour, Bruckner has socked enough money away to sponsor himself next year. He typically spends about $25,000 to $30,000 a year on expenses, staying in "medium-level places like La Quintas" when he is not in Asia. His gross earnings this year were just shy of $100,000.

"I know guys who stay in nice places, and then I've seen guys living out of cars and showering at their friend's house," he said.

Bruckner is somewhat frugal, he points out. Although he paid cash for it, the Accord was a splurge. The 1980 four-door Buick Regal he had been driving--inherited after his grandfather's death--was on its last legs.

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