U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Success Feels Preordained to First-Timer Lee August 29, 2017 | Minneapolis, Minn. By Dave Shedloski

Ken Lee, of Franklin, Tenn., has never trailed on the way to three match-play victories in his first USGA championship at age 56. (USGA/Chris Keane)

“Actually, the trip getting here is better than the success story I’ve had here so far,” Ken Lee said while fighting back tears.

Lee shared that thought on Tuesday morning, after he had dispatched Mark Coward, 4 and 3, in the second round of the 63rd U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at The Minikahda Club. Then came the afternoon, and another convincing victory, 6 and 5, over Bob Cooper. And more tears.

Lee, of Franklin, Tenn., had no plans to be here this week, but his Christian faith tells him that plans were made for him. And the journey is remarkable because it began with profound sadness and has turned into easily the most memorable experience he has had in the game.

“It all has to do with the man up there,” Lee, 56, said, pointing to the sky. “It’s all surreal. I just know that He is walking with me.”

The journey began when Lee and his wife Kim went to visit Ken’s father in Hattiesburg, Miss. His father’s wife was diagnosed with cancer in December, and Ken and Kim wanted to see her and help his father, Frank. A former Florida mini-tour player, Ken decided golf might be a good escape for his 83-year-old dad.

“I could see the stress riding on my dad,” Lee said. “And I happened to see on the USGA website about the qualifier in Hattiesburg. So I told him I might try to qualify in whatever event it is, I didn’t care. I asked him if he could get away and caddie, and he said he would find a way. My dad is 83. It was probably the last time he’ll ever see me play golf. So we went out there together and qualified.”

After playing just one practice round, Lee fired a 74 at Canebreak Country Club on July 26 to win the only available spot. Never before had he played in a USGA championship.

The experience was uplifting for both men. “He just said he was proud that he could be there to help me,” Lee said through more tears, “and that he supports me with what I’m doing.”

So far, what he’s doing is winning.

And he’s doing so convincingly, having yet to trail in any of his three matches. “I got off to a good start in every match. I’ve gotten to them early and, fortunately, stayed on top,” Lee said.

In addition to the fact that the U.S. Senior Amateur is Lee’s USGA championship debut, what makes his route to the quarterfinals even more unfathomable is that he seldom plays golf and he hasn’t competed at match play, he estimates, in nearly 30 years.

“I hit balls. It’s what I do is hit range balls,” he explained. “I haven’t played much, but I came in here thinking I was hitting the ball really well. I pretty much stick to the driving range, but it works for me.”

However far he goes in this championship, Lee already feels satisfied. He couldn’t wait to talk to his father again about his day. A berth in the quarterfinals already assures him of an exemption into next year’s U.S. Senior Amateur at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club.

“I’m excited to play again, and I’m excited about being in next year’s championship,” said Lee. “It’s pretty good so far for my first USGA event. It’s pretty cool. But it’s hard to believe, too.”

The script can’t possibly be better. It feels like, well, a miracle of sorts. And that is fine with Lee.

“Prayer gets me through. I pray before every round,” he said, while noting that superstition plays a role, too. Laundry was on his list of things to do overnight so that he could wear his lucky sky blue Callaway shirt against defending champion Dave Ryan at 7:25 a.m. CDT. “It’s part of my daily routine. I just ask that He gives me wisdom and guides me and walks with me. That’s every day. I know He is with me every step.”

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.

 

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