Alex Lee and Cameron Champ were tied for the lead in the middle of the fairway on the 16th hole Monday in the final round of the Memorial Amateur at Ancil Hoffman.
Both crushed their tee shots. Lee had 263 yards to the flag. Champ was 5 yards closer. Both had the massive oak tree along the left of the par 5 that normally plays as No. 7 to deal with. Both decided to go for the green in two.
No one would have been surprised if the championship was decided with their next shot. No one would have been wrong.
Lee hit a solid 3-wood that seemed to have a bit too much left bend but fortuitously bounced right and stopped on the left fringe about 15 feet from the hole. Champ’s 3-iron didn’t bend as he intended and hit a tree, his ball ending up in a bunker 70 yards short of the green.
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It was a three-shot swing and, as it turned out, the tournament.
Champ left his bunker shot short of the green, knocked his fourth shot over the green, chipped on and two-putted for a double bogey. Lee left his eagle putt inches short, his ensuing birdie giving him a three-shot lead and essentially earning him the title he has coveted since he first played Ancil Hoffman 10 years ago.
Lee closed with a 4-under-par 68 and a 54-hole total of 206 to top Champ (73-209). Daniel Connolly (69-211) was third. David Laskin (75-212) and Josh McCollum (74-212) tied for fourth.
In the past 10 years, no one has spent more time at Ancil Hoffman who didn’t get paid to be there than Lee. He followed the final group as a spectator at the Memorial every year until he was good enough to compete five years ago.
His weekday routine during his first three years at Rio Americano High School entailed his mother, Seohyang, or his father, Inchul, loading the family’s minivan with Alex, his bike and golf bag. They would drop the bag at the course at 6:45 a.m. then take Alex and his bike to school. When classes ended, Alex would ride his bike to the course, get his clubs and play until dark, when his mom, a mail carrier, or his dad, a lab assistant, would collect their son, his bike and his clubs at the conclusion of their work day.
Alex would spend all day at the course on weekends and during summer.
“I think I spent more time at the course than I did at my house,” he said.
Judging by the number of hugs and handshakes he received, Lee’s win was a popular one. He said his familiarity with the course was instrumental.
“When I get nervous, which I did, it was comforting to know where I could hit it and where I could miss it,” he said.
Lee, 20, just concluded his sophomore season at Fresno State in which he had six top-25 finishes. He started the day two shots behind Champ, 21, the 2014 Memorial winner who just completed his junior season at Texas A&M as the 22nd-ranked collegiate in the country.
Lee had a two-shot advantage after nine holes but Champ fought back with a birdie on No. 10 and some clutch par saves, setting the stage on No. 16.
Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526