USGA Title Defines Lee's Career
By Ken Klavon, USGA
Fort Worth, Texas – If Stan Lee presents a swaggering disposition, who could blame him.
Last year’s champion enters this year’s USGA Senior Amateur Championship one for one after winning in his first appearance at Flint Hills National Golf Club in Andover, Kan. Lee, 56, has high expectations of himself as he prepared for Saturday’s first round of stroke play at Shady Oaks Country Club.
“I expect to win,” said the Heber Springs, Ark., native Friday. “And if I come up short, I’ll be disappointed. I don’t say that in an arrogant way. You’ve gotta believe. I say that with good sportsmanship and all that in mind.”
Last year superceded anything he’s ever done as far as golf goes.
“It was the crowning moment of my golf career,” he said. “A USGA title is it.”
That might raise a few eyebrows considering that Lee played on the PGA Tour from 1976-80. A reinstated amateur in 2005, Lee decided that he still wanted to compete at a high level but take a step back from the rigors that professionals go through.
He made his foray into the professional ranks after cutting his teeth as a young amateur. He played in the 1969 U.S. Junior Amateur, the 1973 and 1974 U.S. Amateurs and the 1998 U.S. Mid-Amateur. A 1975 graduate of Louisiana State University, where he was an All-American in 1974 and 1975, Lee wanted his life to be all things golf. But the cutthroat nature of the business, family matters and other callings ended that objective. Or to put it another way, he wasn’t exactly flying in private jets while living the life of luxury. In 81 PGA Tour events, he never won, finishing in the top 10 just three times.
Because of past experiences, he was able to appreciate last year’s victory that much more. He used current U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee, who became that championship’s youngest winner ever, as an example. Lee has his whole career ahead of him and may not fully understand the significance of the victory, according to Lee.
“If I was 18,” said Lee, “I don’t think it would register as much, and how could it? Being 55 and winning last year, it registers.”
Make no bones about it, the win last year didn’t happen without luck, he said. He barely got by James Butler, 2 and 1, in the second round of match play, citing that as an instance of being lucky.
“Whoever wins this year,” said Lee, momentarily backing off his winning expectations, “they’ll have to be lucky. There are going to be one or two matches that are going to be real tough.”
Therein lies the paradox of match play. It doesn’t necessarily define the best talent but the talent that happens to be playing the best.
Which gives players like 57-year-old Ron Hunter of Jasper, Ga., hope. He, too, like Lee is playing in his second USGA Senior Amateur. Unfortunately, his first dalliance in the event didn’t quite turn out like Lee’s. He failed to qualify for match play in 2006. But wasn’t it poet Ernest Lawrence Thayer who penned it best in “Casey At The Bat” that hope springs eternal?
“Everyone out here can play,” said Hunter. “You get to match play and anything can happen.”
That’s the mindset of the other 154 players in the field. Make it to match play and get something going.
It worked for Lee once. He’s hoping it does again, which would make him the first back-to-back champion since William C. Campbell (1979-80).
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s Editor of Digital Media. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.