MANAIN-SABOT, Va. (Sept. 15, 2011)– Louis Lee, 55, of Heber Springs, Ark., made a 4-foot par-putt on the 18th hole to edge Philip Pleat, 55, of Nashua, N.H., 1 up, in the championship match of the 2011 USGA Senior Amateur, conducted at 6,829-yard, par-72 Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot, Va.
With the victory, Louis Lee joined his brother, Stanford, the 2007 champion, as a winner of the event. Earlier in the championship, the pair had met in what is believed to be the first match between two brothers in USGA history.
“You could not have scripted it any better,” said Louis Lee, who drove to Virginia all the way from Arkansas with Stanford and their wives. “It was one of the best days of golf we've ever had as brothers.”
As he had in his semifinal match against William Thomas Doughtie, Lee started quickly against Pleat. He converted a 10-foot birdie putt on the fourth hole to take a 1-up lead and then nearly aced his tee shot for a conceded birdie on the par-3 fifth to extend his advantage to two holes.
Lee gave back a hole with a three-putt bogey at the par-4 sixth, but ran off victories on three consecutive holes beginning on the ninth to grab a 4-up lead.
At that point, Lee appeared to have the match well in hand. Sitting just 20 feet away from the hole with Pleat off the green, it seemed that a two-putt would give him a 5-up advantage with just six holes to play. But when Pleat converted his difficult up and down on hole No. 12 and Lee three-putted, the momentum swung to Pleat, at least momentarily.
“When I finally made the putt there for par, I said, ‘You know what? It’s still not over,’ ” said Pleat, who caddied for his son, James, in the 2011 U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills earlier this year. “I had played [holes] 13 through 15 pretty well during the week. In golf, anything can happen, so you just concentrate on the next shot and go from there.”
Within a half-hour, the tables had turned dramatically. Pleat birdied the 13th and when Lee hooked his tee shot into the water hazard on the par-3 14th, the Nashua-native’s deficit was only one hole.
Just when it seemed like the match was getting away from Lee, however, he righted the ship, hitting the last four greens in regulation to put the pressure on his opponent.
Pleat had 8-foot birdie putts on both 17 and 18 to square the match and send it to extra holes, but neither would fall. When his putt burned the right edge on the closing hole, the stage was set for Lee.
“I was afraid I was on the fast track to giving it away,” said Lee. “But I kind of reached deep down on [holes] 16, 17 and 18. And that 4-foot putt on the last hole was sweet when it dropped. It was digging for that left lip, and it went in, I let off a deep sigh of relief.”
Prior to this year’s Senior Amateur, Lee had not played a single competitive event in more than 25 years. Despite his success on the national stage, his travel schedule may not change.
“I'm going to go back to Heber Springs, Ark., population 6,500, and I'm going to run my little insurance agency and go to the First Baptist Church,” said Lee. “I'm ready to be home for a while. I'm a simple guy, and I live a good life in the heartland of America. I don't plan to make any changes.”
Louis and Stanford Lee now join three other sets of brothers that have won USGA championships: Hank Kuehne (1998 Amateur) and Trip Kuehne (2007 Mid-Amateur); Charles Barenaba (1974 Amateur Public Links) and Randy Barenaba (1975 Amateur Public Links); and Eddie Mudd (1976 Amateur Public Links) and Jodie Mudd (1980, 1981 Amateur Public Links).
Louis Lee also became the second youngest champion in the history of the Senior Amateur, at 55 years and two months. Interestingly, Stanford Lee is the youngest winner in championship history, having won only five days after his 55th birthday.
When the two brothers met in the quarterfinals, it was agreed that the loser of the match would caddie for the winner the rest of the championship. Having Stanford on the bag in the final was a big help for Lee. The 59-year-old past champion served as both a source of confidence and calming influence on the course in a high-pressure situation.
“There’s no one in the world I’d rather be on the golf course with than him,” said Louis Lee. “We are brothers, but we are best friends and we are each other's biggest fan. Having him on the bag made all the difference.”
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 final.
Pleat hit his tee ball well all day, hitting 13 of 14 fairways, but couldn’t sink as many putts as he had in his quarterfinal and semifinal victories over Paul Simson and Chip Lutz, respectively. During Wednesday’s rounds, Pleat made 13 birdies. On Thursday against Lee, he made just one.
“Today, I was off, but that’s golf,” said Pleat, who has worked as a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch for more than three decades. “You have to just hang in there and play with what you have that day. I knew it had to be good to have a chance of beating Louis. I just came up a little bit short, but it was a great experience.”
For the victory, Lee receives a gold medal, the Frederick L. Dold Trophy, a one-year exemption from U.S. Open local qualifying, a two-year exemption into the U.S. Amateur Public Links (if otherwise eligible), a one-year exemption into the U.S. Senior Open, a two-year exemption into the U.S. Amateur, a two-year exemption into the U.S. Mid-Amateur and a 10-year exemption into the USGA Senior Amateur.
Both players receive full exemptions into the 2012 Senior Amateur, which will be conducted Sept. 29 through Oct. 4 at Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, N.J.