MANAKIN-SABOT, Va. – And you thought the golf capital of the United States was Pebble Beach or Pinehurst or San Diego.
Not a chance, at least not on Wednesday.
In what amounted to a piece of golf history, brothers Stan Lee and Louis Lee played each other Wednesday in a ballyhooed quarterfinal match in the USGA Senior Amateur Championship.
“Just wait and see,” predicted Jay Fox, executive director of the Arkansas State Golf Association. “The match will be all square going to the 18th hole. It wouldn’t surprise me to see it go into extra holes.”
Bingo! Louis Lee won the brother-brother contest on the 19th hole, sinking a 22-foot birdie putt.
Oh yes — the Lee brothers are from Heber Springs, Ark., which by proclamation could be called the temporary golf capital of our country.
Heber Springs claims only about 6,500 residents, yet it boasts four golf courses. Two are 18-hole facilities, and two are 9-hole layouts. The Lee brothers play at Red Apple Inn & Country Club.
“All I can say,” quipped a Senior Amateur official who didn’t want to be identified, “is that we had one player from New York City (George Zahringer) and two from Heber Springs, Arkansas.”
The USGA Senior Amateur is designed for amateurs 55 and older. Stan Lee, who won the Senior Amateur in 2007, is 59. Louis Lee is the minimum 55.
“After Louis qualified,” the ASGA’s Fox related, “he said, ‘I’m just filler,’ and I immediately told him, ‘Louis, you can win the whole thing.’ He finally started believing it.”
But nobody told Louis he would travel more than 1,000 miles to play against his older and more famous brother. Louis, a lifelong amateur, owns a State Farm insurance agency in Heber Springs. Stan, who played on the PGA Tour and later tried unsuccessfully to make it on the Champions Tour, works for his brother at the Louis Lee Agency.
Yet this was history. Those who search USGA records will find several instances of sister vs. sister encounters in USGA match play championships. But so far nobody has been able to find any brother vs. brother matchups in 116 years of USGA competition.
Lee vs. Lee started at 9 a.m. under ideal conditions at Kinloch Golf Club. There is no question that Kinloch, with four reachable par 5s and a drivable par 4, is a fantastic course for match play.
How many people showed up for a glimpse at history? Eight, including the two players, the 1st tee announcer and the official referee for the match.
The tiny gallery grew to 27 by end of the match. The small turnout was unfortunate, because this was a great, great match.
For starters, the Lee brothers elected to share the same motorized golf cart. In the match play portion of the USGA Senior Amateur, each contestant always takes a single golf cart — two players to a match, two carts.
But this was two brothers, and nothing would go according to tradition on this day.
On the 1st green, Stan hit a 40-foot birdie putt that rocketed 20 feet past the cup. After Louis lagged his birdie putt to a few inches, Stan asked loudly, “Good-good?”
No, not exactly. Stan missed his putt and went 1-down.
Eventually he would square the match with a birdie at the 18th hole, but he never was able to grab the lead over his younger brother.
For golfers who don’t like short putts, this was the ideal match. The brothers were intent on conceding short putts to each other.
“We didn’t want the match to be decided by a knee-knocker from a few feet,” Louis said. “We were generous with each other.”
Generous? Benevolent was more like it. Charitable, perhaps.
In 19 holes, the Lee brothers together putted only one putt under 5 feet. That’s two golfers, playing 19 holes apiece, attempting just one putt inside 5 feet. All other short putts, including several from 4 feet, were conceded.
The only exception came at 16, where Stan surprised his brother by asking him to putt a 4-footer for par.
“It was OK,” said Louis, who missed the putt. “It was a pivotal putt. I needed to putt it.”
At one point, Louis conceded 3- and 4-foot putts over three holes. In charge of their own destiny, neither of the brothers was going to be embarrassed on the greens.
On the 10th green, Louis faced an 8-foot downhill putt for birdie. Stan, meanwhile, was 15 feet below the hole with a putt for par.
Stan startled onlookers by picking up both balls, conceding the hole, and moving on to the 11th tee.
“I figured if you hit as many bad shots as it did there,” Stan said, “it’s better to go as quickly as possible to the next hole. I guarantee you, in the frame of mind I was in, I never would have made that putt.”
The brothers kept encouraging each other throughout the round. They had identical 1-under-par scores for the regulation 18 holes.
They also tried to outwit each others with humorous comments. “I’m gonna give you that (putt) before you yip it,” Stan teased at one point.
At least each of the brothers was wearing his own shoes. Earlier in the week, Louis left a pair of golf shoes in front of his locker in the Kinloch clubhouse. The shoes seemed to disappear. After a futile search, Kinloch personnel gave Louis a brand new pair of shoes from the golf shop.
Before Louis had a chance to wear the replacement shoes, Stan found the originals. Where? In Stan’s car. He had mistaken them for his own.
The two brothers appear to have fun on the golf course. They play quickly, and they smile a lot.
It was Stan who talked Louis into entering the USGA Senior Amateur after he turned 55.
“My last competitive golf was 1985,” Louis said. “I took a little break for 25 years (26, actually).”
Brotherly bonds can be very strong, so there was no breaking up this team. Upon losing, Stan immediately announced he would caddie for Louis for the rest of the tournament.
“I probably won’t charge him,” Stan cracked.