MANAKIN-SABOT, Virg. (Sept. 14, 2011) -- Louis Lee, 55, of Heber Springs, Ark., and Philip Pleat, 55, of Nashua, N.H., each won twice on Wednesday to advance to the championship match of the 2011 USGA Senior Amateur, being conducted at 6,829-yard, par-72 Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot, Va.
After an emotional morning in which Lee defeated his brother, Stanford, in what is believed to be the first match between two brothers in USGA history, Louis Lee dug deep and eliminated William Thomas Doughtie, 58, of Amarillo, Texas, 5 and 4, in the afternoon.
With his brother serving as his caddie, Louis Lee started quickly against Doughtie, birdieing two of his first three holes to grab an early 2-up lead. He made the turn at 3-up and continued to pour it on, birdieing holes No. 11, 12 and 13 to seal the match.
Prior to this year’s Senior Amateur, Lee had not played a single competitive event in more than 25 years. Yet he is now just one win away from joining his brother as a USGA champion.
“It’s surreal,” said Louis Lee, who said he was “way out of his comfort zone” playing on the big stage of a USGA championship. But being close to Stanford, the 2007 Senior Amateur champion, has made the week much easier.
“There’s no one in the world I’d rather be on the golf course with than him,” said Louis Lee, of his brother. “And I think he’d say the same thing about me. Having him on the bag gives me more confidence. I mean who wouldn’t want to have an All-American, ex-Tour pro, ex-Senior Amateur champion on the bag? I’ll take that. And by the way, he’s free!”
While playing against Stanford in the morning, Louis Lee built a 2-up lead through 15 holes, but was forced to extra holes when his brother stuck his approach shot on No. 18 within 2 feet of the hole for a conceded birdie.
On the first playoff hole, Louis Lee drained a 20-foot birdie putt to win the match, prompting a pat on the back and hearty embrace from his 59-year-old brother. Lee won the first hole all three times he played it on Wednesday.
“In one way it was the most fun round and in the other way it was the most difficult round I’ve ever played,” said Louis Lee, who drove to Virginia all the way from Arkansas with Stanford and their wives. “You want to play good, you want to win, but it’s OK if you don’t win. That’s a strange sensation in golf. You could not have scripted it any better.”
Though he wasn’t able to make another run at the title, Stanford concurred with Louis.
“I think this has been the best day of golf I’ve ever had. I got to play with my little brother this morning and caddie for him in the afternoon. That’s darn pretty special. Regardless how he plays tomorrow, it’s been a great week.”
Louis Lee will face fellow 55-year-old Philip Pleat, of Nashua, N.H., in the championship final. The Granite State native was rock solid in his two matches on Wednesday, turning back two of the most recognizable names on the senior amateur circuit – Paul Simson and Chip Lutz.
Pleat never trailed on Wednesday, but was pushed to the 18th hole in both his quarterfinal and semifinal matches. He needed his best golf to advance and dug deep, making 13 birdies with normal match-play concessions.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” said Pleat, who rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole to beat Lutz and book his spot in the final. “I was up against two great players and I knew I needed to be on my game. I’m ecstatic.”
While Simson and Lutz were looking to rewrite the record books, Pleat let his putter do the talking, dropping several mid-range putts to hold off late charges by both players. Simson, 60, of Raleigh, N.C., was looking to become the first player to defend his Senior Amateur title in over 30 years while Lutz, 56, of Reading, Pa., was hoping to equal Simson’s feat from 2010 when the North Carolina native won the senior amateur championships of Canada, Britain and the United States in the same season.
“I hit some good shots coming in and made some nice putts, but I missed the one that was probably the easiest,” said Lutz of his 6-foot birdie bid on the 18th that slid by the left edge. “[Pleat] played so nicely that I can’t be disappointed, but when you get this close, you hope to close. But I’ve had a wonderful year.”
Pleat’s performance continued a strong showing by New Hampshire natives in USGA championships this season. Keene, N.H., resident Chelso Barrett was the runner-up to Jordan Spieth at the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur at Gold Mountain Golf Club. Pleat played against Barrett’s father, Hugh, in the final of the 1981 New Hampshire Amateur.
Thursday’s championship match between 55-year-olds Lee and Pleat will be the first time two Senior Amateur “rookies” have faced each other in the final since 1993 when Joe Ungvary defeated Jerry Nelson.
With their semifinal victories, both Lee and Pleat will be exempt into next week’s U.S. Mid-Amateur at Shadow Hawk Golf Club in Houston, Texas. All semifinalists will be exempt into the 2012 and 2013 Senior Amateurs.
The USGA Senior Amateur, open to male golfers 55 and older, is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Michael Trostel is the curator/historian at the USGA Museum. Email him at email@example.com.