U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
2007 Champion Stan Lee Rues Brother’s Absence September 18, 2016 | St. Louis, Mo. By Tom Mackin

2007 champion Stan Lee is optimistic that he can be a factor at Old Warson if he advances to match play. (USGA/Chris Keane)

U.S. Senior Amateur Home

Stan Lee knew exactly what his younger brother Louis would say to him after seeing the 78 he shot on Saturday during the first round of stroke play in the U.S. Senior Amateur at Old Warson Country Club. “When he sees that, he’ll go, ‘What the heck? We sent the wrong brother.’”

That’s not just a funny wisecrack from a little brother. Both Lees have won this championship, making them one of five sets of brothers who have won USGA championships. In 2007, Stan became the youngest winner ever, defeating Sam Farlow, of Birmingham, Ala., 4 and 3, at Flint Hills National Golf Club in Andover, Kan., just five days after turning 55.

Four years later, Louis won the championship, 1 up, over Phillip Pleat, of Nashua, N.H., at Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot, Va. En route to that victory, the younger Lee defeated his older sibling in 19 holes in the quarterfinals, a match believed to be the first between brothers in USGA history.

Both Lee brothers were scheduled to play at Old Warson County Club, but Louis withdrew after his wife was injured in a bicycle accident a week ago. “If he left her he would have felt like a total heel, and he’s not,” Stan said. “He’s right where he ought to be.”

Despite the 10-year exemption awarded to winners of the championship, neither brother played the past two years. “I changed careers three years ago from insurance to being a bank president in my hometown (Heber Springs, Ark.), and I just didn’t have the time,” said Stan, who played the PGA Tour from 1976-1980. “If you don’t have the time to prepare for this, you might as well not come. So I didn’t.”

But Old Warson Country Club is just a six-hour drive from his Arkansas home, so he made the trip. “I wanted to play in this again and I’m glad I did,” he said. “I love this level of competition. I even love it when I shoot 78. It’s just a great game.”

His absence in 2014 and 2015 discouraged his brother from entering as well. “That’s the honest truth,” Stan said. “In 2011, I entered him, I took him there and I caddied for him in the championship. He wouldn’t have played if I hadn’t done all of that. This year he was coming because he knew I was going to enter. Maybe it’s the little brother thing. But he is playing so good right now. He would have eaten this golf course right up.”

That wasn’t quite the case for Stan’s first round. “I was nervous starting out, which I didn’t anticipate,” he said. “It cost me bogeys early in the round (he was 4 over after eight holes). I fought my way back with a birdie on the ninth, but then I shanked a 7-iron straight into the lake on the par-3 13th. I can’t remember the last time I did that. I was scared to hit an iron after that. I doubled that hole and just never recovered.”

Why would nerves affect a former champion? “I haven’t played in this championship the last two years, and haven’t played much individual golf this year, so I didn’t know what to expect. It may be partly my age (64). I know I’m coming to the closing of the window and all of that, but I was nervous.”

He wasn’t as uneasy in 2007, a win that in his mind seems like it happened yesterday.

“But I’ll tell you what, my body tells me it wasn’t,” said Stan. “I can’t hit it as far as I used to and suddenly for the first time in my life, distance has become a factor. So being 64 is a whole lot different than being 55. I’ve lost about a full club and a half on every shot. That makes a lot of difference. Out here it’s the difference between maybe having a 4-iron and a 7-iron. There’s no overcoming a loss of power.”

What he has retained, though, is what he calls the key ingredient to winning this championship: mental toughness. “You can’t be dented by anything. You gotta keep chugging on, focus on the positive and never let anything change your focus. There are so many negative things that will happen to you during the course of this championship, and if you let them get inside your head, you’re done. The week I won I was very focused, and my brother was too, the year he won. And don’t forget, you gotta be lucky in match play. If you catch somebody that birdies the first seven holes, you’re on the train home. I never did face that in 2007.”

Despite the first-round 78, Stan still has hopes of bouncing back. “It may sound stupid, but my goal is to win it. Even at my age, I just still believe I can. I could have a good second round and still be in this thing. But for sure I want to make the cut. I have a really good game for match play. I hit all the fairways, which annoys people. We’ll see.”

Every now and then the Lee brothers reminisce about their respective championship wins and their memorable quarterfinal match in 2011.

“I tell you something I said to him right before we teed off when we played each other,” Stan explained. “I don’t know what made me say it, but I said, ‘You know Louis, when we get to the point where one of us is passing and the other one is standing there, remember this day as the greatest day we ever had. We were tied after 18 holes and then he beat me on the first extra hole. We had a marvelous day. So we will forever cherish that.”

Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites.