September 18, 2007

Fezler Builds On Early Success

Fezler's work as a course designer-builder makes him feel like a winner "every job."

Forrest Fezler certainly can relate when a promising young PGA Tour pro is searching for his first victory. Back in the wide-collar, polyester-plaid era, Fezler was on the same mission. "I was kind of known as a bridesmaid," says Fezler, who arrived at the 1974 Southern Open in Columbus, Ga., as a 24-year-old with five runner-up finishes since earning his tour card late in 1971, one of them to Hale Irwin in the 1974 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

The Southern Open was a cozy, late-summer gathering at Green Island CC, and it turned out to be the perfect place for Fezler to break through. A runner-up there to Gary Player in 1973, Fezler birdied four of the first six holes in the final round then hung on with a series of par-saves to close with a 65 and edge J.C. Snead and Bruce Crampton by one shot. "I can remember the back nine," says Fezler, who will turn 58 Sept. 23. "I got up and down from everywhere."

Fezler's triumph figured to be the first of many, but in a scenario that has derailed tour pros for as long as there has been a tour, an injury led to a swing change and a downward spiral in his results. After tearing tendons in his left wrist in 1975 -- he believes as a result of the pressure he put on the joint with his hold-on action through the ball -- Fezler struggled to recover the reliable fade that had taken him to No. 13 on the money list in 1973.

"I aimed way left and push-cut the ball," says Fezler, who grew up in San Jose, Calif., where he was a backup to quarterback Jim Plunkett in high school. "[After the injury], I got square over the ball. People said, 'You look great,' but the ball was still going 30 yards to the right. Subconsciously you favor [an injury] and change your swing. You go to teaching pros to try to find it. Pretty soon, it's like, 'Golly, where did it go?' "

The most news Fezler made late in his playing days was when he slipped into a pair of shorts prior to playing the 72nd hole at the 1983 U.S. Open, a sartorial stunt to tweak the USGA that received a lot of attention. "At least [people] remember me for something," says Fezler, who has been working in golf-course construction and design since 1994, when he became an associate of the late Mike Strantz, a designer known for his artistic flair and keen attention to detail.

"Mike said if you want to learn to be an architect, you need to put a shovel in your hand and go from there," says Fezler, who had no interest in design when he was playing but "got the bug" seeing Tom Fazio and Strantz create Fezler's Golden Eagle GC in Tallahassee in the 1980s after he quit the tour. "It was like watching a great painter create something," Fezler says of Strantz. "He taught me to think outside of the box."

Strantz's death from cancer in 2005 was a hard blow, but after a hiatus Fezler and his old colleagues reunited. Davis Love III was the first to notice, hiring Fezler and his team to construct Ricefields GC near Savannah. He is at work on another of Love's designs and also on projects for Arnold Palmer and John Fought. With his architecture partner, Paul Cowley, Fezler has three courses -- in Delray Oaks, Calif., Gainesville, Fla., and near Winston-Salem, N.C. -- that he will design and build starting in 2009.

"I have more satisfaction out of creating and building courses than I ever did playing the tour because you win on every job," says Fezler. "How many tournaments do you win on tour, other than Tiger?" Plus, he can wear shorts to work every day.