Lee in good company as he goes for four-peat
By Bill Kwon
Rather than making history, three-time defending champion Regan Lee is more interested in making a good score this week. But he has an opportunity to do both in the 72-hole Mid-Pacific Open beginning today.
You've got to like Lee's chances to make it four straight.
"It's possible. It's been awhile since I've played well, but my game seems to be getting better," said Lee, who won by a whopping 11 strokes last year.
"I haven't given it much thought what four in a row would mean. I just want to put together some good scores for a good tournament."
But here's a thought what four in a row would mean.
Only five men have ever won a local tournament at least four straight years, and none since the 1950s.
Francis I'i Brown did it in the Manoa Cup in the 1920s and George Angus the decade before. Guinea Kop, Lee's grandfather, won the Campos Cup a pros-only precursor of the Mid-Pac Open from 1951-54. Kop also won the PGA of Hawai'i Match Play Championship four straight years in the 1930s.
The all-time record is held by Jimmy Ukauka, who made the Maui Open his personal domain by winning it six consecutive years (1953-1958) when it was a 72-hole tournament. Ukauka's reign ended in 1959 when he lost to Kop in a sudden-death playoff.
Arthur Armstrong's five victories (1937-1941) in the now defunct Atherton Cup is the next best among the men.
Among the women, Joan Damon (Jennie K. Wilson), Marga Stubblefield (Barbers Point Women's) and Codie Austin (Hawai'i Women's Amateur) posted four victories in a row in the same event.
So Lee has an opportunity to join some heady company, and doing it at a time when the tournament field is deeper and more competitive.
It's said certain courses are made for certain horses. In Lee's case, Mid-Pac's championship layout in Lanikai seems ideally suited for his game.
Unlike Pearl Country Club, where Lee has never won the Hawai'i Pearl Open, the first major of the year, much to his chagrin.
"I like that you have to play a lot of different shots because of the wind. You have to play creative golf, hitting into and with the wind," Lee said about the site of his three straight victories.
Gregory Yamamoto The Honolulu Advertiser
Regan Lee became the first to win three consecutive Mid-Pacific Opens, routing the field by 11 strokes last year. Only five men and three women have won a Hawai'i tournament at least four years in a row.
Gregory Yamamoto The Honolulu Advertiser
"The front nine plays a little easier. You feel like you should be making more birdies. But eight is the toughest hole on the course because there's no flat place on the green.
"All the holes on the back nine are challenging. Ten is short. I've hit anywhere from 2-iron to driver but you almost never have an easy (second) shot to the green."
And 17 and 18 are demanding par-4 holes that can decide the outcome of a tournament, including two of the women's majors held there the Jennie K. Invitational and the Hawai'i State Women's Golf Association Stroke Play Championship.
"They're great finishing holes," said Mark Sousa, Mid-Pac's golf professional.
Only 336 yards, the 17th hole features a narrow fairway only 60 yards wide counting the rough with the prevailing wind blowing left to right and right is out of bounds.
"I usually punch a 3-iron there to around 130 to 140 yards," said Lee, who said he feels par is a good score there as well as 18, where, he says, it's difficult to keep the ball in the fairway because everything funnels to the left with the terrain and right-to-left trade winds.
Of his three Mid-Pac victories, last year's remains the most memorable, according to Lee, 29, a former standout on the University of Hawai'i golf team.
What about his 2002 victory when he posted a 16-under-par 272, only surpassed by David Ishii's record 271 in 1986 in the tournament's 43-year history?
"I remember being really confident then, having played on the Canadian Tour the summer before. I realized you had to shoot low scores and I had a 65 in the opening round," Lee said.
"I hadn't been playing well and it was one of the few tournaments I played well that year," said Lee, who played in five events on the Japan mini-tour without success last year after two previous seasons on the Arizona Gateway Tour.
Lee said he felt his winning score of 3-under-par 285 was solid considering the adverse conditions howling winds and tricky pin placements the entire week.
He remembers pitching in for a birdie on the 72nd hole to punctuate his 11-stroke runaway. More important, Lee realized the significance of being the first player to win the event three straight years.
"It's really neat when someone says you made history," Lee said at the time.
Perhaps he isn't done making a little more history.
Bill Kwon can be reached at email@example.com.