In the week leading up to the 2011 USGA Senior Amateur, Tropical Storm Lee dumped more than six inches of rain on the Chesapeake Bay region. The storm moved away the day before the championship started, but the other competitors at Kinloch Golf Club weren’t through hearing about a “Lee” that week in suburban Richmond.
Brothers Stan and Louis Lee grew up in the town of Heber Springs, Ark., a wholesome, tourist-friendly town with a population of 6,000 that boasts some of the top-rated trout fishing in the United States. Heber Springs was founded as a health resort in the mid-19th century, and it gained notoriety in 1963 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the construction of the Greers Ferry Dam, which formed a 31,500-acre lake. President John F. Kennedy came to Heber Springs in October of that year for the lake’s dedication; it was Kennedy’s last major public appearance before he was assassinated in Dallas the following month.
Their father, Richie Lee, was drafted by the Chicago White Sox, but decided to stay in Arkansas and raise a family. He ran the Chrysler dealership in Heber Springs for 32 years. Stan and Louis were introduced to golf as youngsters, learning to play at the Red Apple Inn and Country Club, a tree-lined public course in Heber Springs. Because their high school graduating classes were only around 50 students, the Lee brothers played a variety of sports growing up – football, basketball, baseball, track and, of course, golf.
Both were very successful junior players in the region and received golf scholarships to LSU. While Louis graduated with a degree in business administration and returned to Heber Springs to sell cars with his father, Stan took a shot at playing golf professionally.
He earned his PGA Tour card on his first try at Q-school in November 1975 and played five years on Tour, with his best performance a runner-up finish to the late Jim Simons in the 1977 New Orleans Open. Stan needed pars on the final three holes to bring home the title, but three-putted the last three greens.
“It was simply a matter of getting nervous,” said Stan. “I could barely breathe knowing that I only needed three pars to play at Augusta.”
Stan made a lot of cuts over the course of his five-year PGA Tour career, but realized he would never be a superstar. In 1980, the stresses of being away from home and traveling for more than 40 weeks out of the year led Stan to settle down back in Arkansas.
He was reinstated as an amateur in 2005 and two years later Stan won the USGA Senior Amateur at Flint Hills National G.C. in Andover, Kan. The day after his victory, Stan received more than 600 congratulatory phone calls.
“If I had any idea how many people were paying attention, I would have choked,” said Stan. “But now that it’s sunk in, I look back and think that all those years that I played and practiced were worth it. There’s something special and unique about saying you’re a USGA champion regardless if it is a Junior, Senior or anything in between.”
Fast forward to spring 2011 and Louis, four years Stan’s junior, was approaching his 55th birthday. Louis still played often around Heber Springs, but had not participated in a competitive event in more than 25 years. It took some convincing by Stan, but finally Louis filed an entry for the championship.
The brothers have an especially close relationship. Not only do they live less than 15 minutes apart – Louis in Heber Springs and Stan in nearby Tumbling Shoals – but they work together as well. Louis owns a State Farm insurance agency and Stan works at his office. They have played hundreds of rounds of golf with each other and aren’t afraid to be blunt if the occasion calls for it.
For example, when Louis advanced through sectional qualifying in Arkansas last year, snagging the only available spot, he still debated if he wanted to make the trip to Kinloch.
“I still wasn’t sure I wanted to go,” said Louis. “But Stan yelled at me, called me a doofus and finally convinced me to go.”
They made the 16-hour drive (more than 950 miles) from Heber Springs to Richmond and after 36 holes of qualifying, both advanced to match play. Once they both knew they were in, Louis and Stan walked up to the scoreboard and saw that they could face each other in the quarterfinals.
“We both thought, ‘No way,’” said Stan. “It would be cool, but there’s no way it will happen.”
Then they both started winning. Louis was pushed to the 18th hole in each of his first two matches before breezing past Steve Poulson of Utah in the third round. Stan was pushed to extra holes twice, edging two-time USA Walker Cupper Martin West in 19 holes in the first round, then defeating Tony Green by the same margin in the third round. With Louis watching to see if Stan would join him in the quarterfinals, Green holed his approach shot on the par-4 18th for an eagle-2 to force extra holes, but Stan stuck his 8-iron on the first extra hole to within a foot for a conceded birdie.
The match between Louis and Stan in the quarterfinal round of the Senior Amateur marked the first time two brothers had faced each other in a match in USGA history.
Before they squared off, the brothers agreed to have some fun on the course.
“We said, Let’s make this a day that 20 years from now we look back … and smile, regardless of outcome,” said Stan. “Standing on the first tee was a moment that stood in time.”
Fittingly, the match was all square at the conclusion of 18 holes.
“It was a perfect way for it to work out,” said Stan. “We went to sudden death and let the clubs do the talking.”
Louis rolled in a 20-foot putt on the first extra hole to defeat his elder brother. True to an agreement they had made before the match, Stan caddied for Louis the rest of the championship.
“Having him on the bag helped me more than I can explain,” said Louis. “He was already a national champion and had been down that road before. He knows my game and was able to help me keep my focus. If he hadn’t been caddieing for me, I wouldn’t have won.”
Louis jumped ahead of Philip Pleat, of Nashua, N.H., in the championship match, winning Nos. 5 and 6 to build a 2-up lead, and seemed in control of the match after back-to-back birdies at 10 and 11 stretched the lead to 4 up.
But Louis three-putted the 12th, Pleat birdied the par-5 13th and Louis dumped his tee shot on the par-3 14th in the water. All of a sudden momentum had shifted and Louis was up by just one hole.
Standing on the 15th tee, Louis had all sorts of negative thoughts in his head.
“I’m thinking about this monumental collapse I’m having, my head is going crazy and I’ve lost control of my emotions,” said Louis. “Then Stan pulls me aside and says ‘If someone told you that you would be 1 up on the 15th tee before the match started, would you take it?’ I said, ‘Sure I would.’ He said, ‘Well, that’s what you’ve got,’ and that really helped to calm me down.”
Louis didn’t miss a shot after that, hitting the final four greens in regulation. Still, it came down to a 4-foot putt on the 18th hole to decide the match.
“I was standing next to the water ready to throw up,” said Stan, who admitted he had never been more nervous on the golf course than when Louis stood over that putt. “When it went in I could finally breathe again.”
The brothers shared a warm embrace and shed a few tears at the conclusion of the match. With Louis’ win, they joined four other sets of brothers who have won USGA championships: Willie Smith (1899 U.S. Open) and Alex Smith (1906, 1910 U.S. Open); 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).
Because of gall bladder surgery, Stan won’t be able to compete at this year’s USGA Senior Amateur at Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, N.J., but once again he’ll be carrying his brother’s bag in the hope of helping him to the first successful Senior Amateur title defense since Bill Campbell in 1980. On Wednesday, after a long car ride from Arkansas, Louis toured the USGA Museum at Golf House and saw the Lee family’s name on the plaques that list every USGA champion.
There may not be any tropical storms in the forecast this week, but you can bet that whatever happens, Stan and Louis Lee will be smiling all the way back to Arkansas.
Michael Trostel is the curator/historian at the USGA Museum. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.