Sports: Winning is a Family Tradition
Louis and Stanford Lee
Photography courtesy of USGA
Brothers, foes, friends, family, national champions and United States Golf Association (USGA) history makers … all adjectives describing the Lee brothers, Louis and Stanford, from Heber Springs, Arkansas. The second week of last September, they encountered all of the above during the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot, Virginia.
In this, the 57th national championship for men age 55 and older, the Lees battled against each other one day and the next two days comprised a winning team.
Louis, the younger at 55, completed the brothers’ dream week when he sank a four-foot putt on the final hole to edge Philip Pleat, 55, of Nashua, N.H., 1-up in the championship match.
This enabled Louis to join brother Stanford, 59, in this circle of U.S. senior champions and become the only two brothers to win this event. Stanford captured his title in 2007. Louis and Stanford now join three other sets of brothers who 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 also became the second youngest champion in the history of the Senior Amateur, at 55 years and two months. Interestingly, Stanford is the youngest winner in championship history, having won only five days after his 55th birthday.
“You could not have scripted it any better,” said Louis, who drove to Virginia from Arkansas with Stanford and their wives. “It was one of the best days of golf we’ve ever had as brothers.”
In the final match against Pleat, he had to dig deep down within himself coming down the stretch to pull out the victory. Pleat had eight-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, it gave Lee the opening he needed.
“I was afraid I was on the fast track to giving it away,” Lee said. “But I kind of reached deep down on [holes] 16, 17 and 18, and that four-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.”
What made the victory so remarkable is that prior to the senior amateur, Lee had not played in a competitive event for some 25 years; even more interesting, his road to the championship included a showdown with brother Stanford.
Both qualified for the 64-player match play portion of the event and both won their first three matches. That set up a battle among brothers in the quarterfinals. It is believed to be the first time in the 116-year history of USGA competition that two brothers faced each other in a match.
Before the two tangled on the golf course, Jay Fox, executive director of the Arkansas State Golf Association made a prediction. “You just wait and see,” he said. “The match will be all square going to the 18th hole, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see it go into extra holes.”
How right he was. It went to the 19th hole where Louis sank a 22-foot birdie putt to eliminate his older brother. But Stanford was not through, just yet. He went from competitor to caddy and carried his brother’s golf bag the next two days in the semifinals and final match. The two brothers agreed that the loser of the quarterfinal match would caddy for the winner the rest of the way. For Louis, that was huge.
“There’s no one in the world I’d rather be on the golf course with than him,” Louis said. “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. Stan helped slow me down. He kept reminding me to pick a target on every shot. He kept saying, ‘You gotta keep your focus.’ He saved me in this match. I was bleeding oil, but somehow I won.”
Both Louis and Stanford played college golf at Louisiana State University, although Louis remained an amateur and owns a State Farm insurance agency, the Louis Lee Agency. Stan turned pro, finished second in the 1977 Greater New Orleans Open on the PGA Tour and ultimately regained his amateur status. He works with his brother in the insurance business.
With the victory, Louis received 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.
Still, don’t look for Louis to change his playing schedule very much. “I’m going to go back to Heber Springs, and I’m going to run my little insurance agency and go to the First Baptist Church,” he said, after his victory. “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.”
One thing is certain, the Lee brothers have definitely put their little quaint, tourist-related hometown on the national golfing map. It’s a town of less than 7,000 residents with four golf courses — two 18-hole facilities and two 9-hole layouts. Both Lees play out of the Red Apple Inn and Country Club.
When all was said and done, Louis quipped, “Not too bad for a couple of brothers from a little old Arkansas town.”
Two brothers — against each other, for each other and making history along the way — no, not too bad at all.