Defending champ goes down at Senior Am

2011 USGA Senior Amateur champion Louis Lee

2011 USGA Senior Amateur champion Louis Lee

WEST CALDWELL, N.J. – The defending USGA Senior Amateur champion went down in flames Wednesday, putting like a man with Crooked Aim Disease and losing in the quarterfinal round of match play.

“I didn’t make a putt all day,” said 2011 winner Louis Lee of Heber Springs, Ark., who won his first three matches here at Mountain Ridge Country Club before falling to Jim Knoll of Sunnyvale, Calif. “I just didn’t have it today, and Jim made some key shots.”

If the putting gods were against Lee, they smiled on Knoll, who sank a 48-foot birdie putt on No. 10 and a 23-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole. That was enough to secure a 2-up victory.

The match went to the 18th green, where Lee faced a 28-foot birdie putt that could have squared the match. However, he three-putted for bogey before conceding a par to Knoll.

The 56-year-old Lee was trying to become the first back-to-back Senior Amateur champion since the legendary Bill Campbell in 1979 and 1980.

It rained throughout the morning, flooding several of the greens and causing a delay of more than an hour.

“It’s hard to stop like that,” Lee said. “I feel kind of rusty, like I never was able to get loose once we went back (on the course).”

Knoll was counting his blessings. “I feel very, very lucky,” he said. “What an honor this is for me.”

The 60-year-old Knoll is playing in his fourth USGA Senior Amateur. Although mostly unknown outside of northern California, he has impressive credentials: he played in two U.S. Opens and two U.S. Senior Opens.

Knoll is a former touring professional. He was reinstated as an amateur 30 years ago. Lee also is a reinstated amateur, although his pro career lasted less than a year and he regained his amateur status in 1980.

Concidentally, Lee’s caddie in the quarterfinal round was his brother, 2007 USGA Senior Amateur champion Stan Lee. In the late 1970s, Knoll and Stan Lee both played the PGA Tour and were acquaintances.

Stan Lee did not enter the 2012 Senior Amateur because of gall-bladder surgery this summer. “I’m fine now,” he said, “but I haven’t been able to practice or play.”

Knoll has played the role of giant killer in this national championship, defeating pre-tournament favorite and No. 1-ranked senior amateur Chip Lutz in the first round and eliminating Lee, the defending champion, in the quarterfinals.

Besides Knoll, other winners in the quarterfinal round were 61-year-old Paul Simson of Raleigh, N.C.; 55-year-old Doug Hanzel of Savannah, Ga.; and 55-year-old Curtis Skinner of Lake Bluff, Ill. All but Hanzel, a physician, were touring pros before returning to the amateur ranks.

The minimum age for the USGA Senior Amateur is 55. The oldest winner was 69-year-old Lewis Oehmig, in 1985.

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