Defending a new role for Lee in county championship

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David Lee, who played high school golf for Greenville Rose and collegiately at North Carolina State University, remembers the days when he was considered a long-hitting limberback.

And when he encountered a losing result against an older opponent, Lee was usually puzzled as to why he didn’t emerge with a winning outcome.

Now, Lee, director of Wilson Parks and Recreation, is age 49 and hopes to utilize the experience he has gained the last three or four years in defending his status as the H.W. Weatherford Memorial/Wilson County Amateur Men’s champion.

“I’m on the other side of the fence now,” Lee observed with a laugh.

Lee faces an onslaught of young, long-hitting challengers in the annual county championship Saturday and Sunday at Wedgewood Public Golf Course.

That list includes Clint O’Hara, Mark Whitley, Stephen Abrams, Kyle Norville and Brock Godwin.

Not to be overlooked is two-time former champion Kent Williams and challengers Zim Hagan, Dwayne Baker, Matt Figg and Brandon McKeel.

Lee just hopes he responds with a sizzling putting exhibition similar to the one that propelled him to the 2017 championship.

“I think he’s got a great chance of defending,” remarked Wedgewood head professional Brady Pinner. “He’s putting really well.”

However, Lee is also on the “other side of the fence” in that he’s defending.

“It’s different defending. That’s something I’ve never done before,” the left-hander admitted. “But I am looking forward to it; it’ll be a lot of fun. I am putting well again; I never putted like (the 2017 performance) in this tournament before. I didn’t do anything dumb on the greens and just had a good weekend with my putting.”

Yet, Lee realizes he’s 49 and “holding on.” He’s one birthday away from being eligible for the Seniors (ages 50-59) division.

“If I don’t win it, I hope Clint (O’Hara) does,” Lee expressed. “He deserves to win one. Sometimes, it’s just your turn — 23 years later.”

The first tee time Saturday and Sunday is 8 a.m. — Lee will be there Saturday. Pinner notes he will not complain about a turnout as high as 90. As of Thursday afternoon, the count had reached 80.

Still, the number is a far cry from years ago when the county championship drew a field of some 200. This is Pinner’s fourth year and he points out the turnout has dwindled each year.

Cited as factors discouraging participation are the North Carolina-East Carolina football game, the expected hot weather and even the arrival of hunting season. And players are simply growing older and less competitive.

“I don’t see area play being down much,” Pinner remarked. “I want (the county championship) to be important; I know it’s important to a bunch of them.”

Divisions of competition will be Men’s, Seniors (50-59), Super Seniors (60-69), Legends (70-up), Women’s and Women’s Seniors.

Leading contenders in the various Seniors categories include Doug Barnes, Larry Lane, John Wooten, Danny Barnes, Lee Fulcher, Steve Jones, Rick Proctor. Scott Irby, Charles Matthews and Ricky Joyner.

Women’s champion Patch Wilkinson returns as does contender Beth Rhyne.

“We are teeing off early enough that we should beat the (possible) afternoon storms,” Pinner said.

Pinner emphasized the condition of the par-72 Wedgewood layout continues to improve.

“The course is good,” he assured. “(Course superintendent) Daniel (Lancaster) has done a great job. A few spots on the greens are the only things they can complain about.”