RICHMOND, Texas – During the past 20 years, Randal Lewis has become pretty much a legend within Michigan amateur golf circles. He won the 1992 and 1999 Michigan Amateur titles and the ’98 State Mid-Amateur crown. He was the Golf Association of Michigan Player of the Decade for the 1990s and in 2009 he was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame.
Lewis, a financial adviser from Alma, Mich., even had a few good runs at the national level, finishing runner-up in the 1996 U.S. Mid-Amateur and advancing to the semifinals at the ’99 Mid-Am.
Now Lewis is a national champion and has found a place in the USGA record book to chalk one up for the old guys.
On a hot, steamy day in southeast Texas, Lewis, at age 54, became the oldest champion in U.S. Mid-Amateur history when he defeated Kenny Cook, 3 and 2, in the scheduled 36-hole final Friday at Shadow Hawk Golf Club.
George Zahringer had been the oldest champion in this event for players age 25 and older when he captured the 2002 title at 49.
Along with a host of qualifying exemptions to a variety of future USGA events, the victory gets Lewis an expected invitation to next year’s Masters, something Augusta National Golf Club has been doing for the U.S. Mid-Am winner since David Eger won in 1988.
“I’ve been to Augusta (National and the Masters) once, back in 1994, and it was unbelievable,” Lewis said. “The Masters will be a dream come true. But trust me, being a USGA champion and it being the mid-amateur is the biggest dream come true for me.
“It’s really been an incredible week,” said Lewis, who didn’t take up the game until he was 17. “You saw my peak performance this week. I had to play the golf of my life to beat Mike (McCaffrey, qualifying medalist in the quarterfinals) and Nathan (Smith, three-time U.S. Mid-Am champ in the semifinals). It just all came together at the right time.”
Lewis, who played four weeks as a pro after graduating from Central Michigan in 1980 and regaining his amateur status in 1982, had played in numerous USGA events and enjoyed a few solid finishes. Cook, by contrast, had not done better than advancing to the second round at the ’08 Mid-Amateur.
Cook, 31, an accountant from Noblesville, Ind., likewise had a short stint as a pro — seven months after graduating from Ball State in 2003 before being reinstated as an amateur in 2005. He said he would take a lot of good things away from his performance this week.
“It was a good week, and a lot of positives have come out of it,” Cook said. “It showed me I have some game and belong out here at this stage. It’s definitely going to persuade me to work harder.”
In the championship match, Lewis jumped on top early by winning the first two holes. He was 2 up through 12 holes before Cook won 13 and 14 with birdies to square the match.
Lewis came back and won Nos. 16 and 18 with pars for a 2-up lead after the 18-hole morning session.
After the lunch break, Cook cut the margin by winning the 20th hole with a birdie. Lewis responded by winning the 22nd hole.
Cook won the 23rd, Lewis the 25th and Cook the 26th to leave Lewis with a 1-up edge.
Lewis then won the 27th with an 8-foot birdie putt and the 29th with a par after Cook missed the green right and failed to make his 8-foot par putt.
At the short 264-yard par-4 13th hole, Lewis drove the green and two-putted for birdie to go 4 up. Lewis cut into the lead with a birdie at the next hole before the match ended after both players halved the next two holes with pars.
“It’s really unbelievable, to win at this age and especially in this heat (90-plus degrees),” said Lewis, the father of two sons, Christopher, 22, and Nicklaus, 19. “Being from Michigan, it was a big concern as to whether I could hold up and keep up my stamina. But I felt comfortable all week, and especially today.”
Cook’s game just wasn’t up to the level as in his first five matches, in which he trailed in only one of 80 holes.
“Today, I rolled it terrible. My speed (on greens) just wasn’t there, and I just had a difficult time reading putts,” Cook said. “It was not my day on the greens, for sure. I hit some good golf shots, but it you’re not making putts, what good does it do?”
Cook also was quick to compliment his opponent.
“Mr. Lewis definitely can play, and he showed it today,” Cook said. “The guy can hit golf shots, and he can putt. Yeah, he’s 54, but the guy can play, simple as that.”
Now Lewis will have a golden opportunity on some of the game’s biggest stages, starting the first full week in April at the Masters.