A former Seattle Mariners pitching standout and a onetime South Korean golf tour pro will both be thrilled to be rookies of a sort at the U.S. Senior Open.
Auburn’s Yong Lee, 60, was the only golfer to shoot a par-72 in the Senior Open Sectional Qualifier on Monday, June 1, at Loomis Trail Golf Club.
Erik Hanson, who recently became senior-eligible when he turned 50, claimed the second qualifying spot by winning a first-hole playoff against Arlington’s 51-year-old Darren Tucker, who will be the first alternate.
Lee, who shot 33-39–72, and Hanson, who went 37-36–73, will join qualifiers from 33 other sectionals at the Senior Open June 25-28 at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento Calif.
Lee, a native of South Korea, was especially thrilled to win the qualifier because he missed out by one stroke twice before in Senior Open qualifiers, including last year.
Lee noted he played seven seasons on the Korean PGA Tour through 2005, then won five events in two years on the Korean Senior Tour. That gave him the sort of determination he used to power through to the Senior Open.
“This is pretty exciting,” said Lee, whose previous high spot in American golf was playing in the PGA Seniors Boeing Classic two years ago with golf legend Mark O’Meara.
“Every time he plays, Dad feels he still has a shot,” said his caddy, 24-year-old son Charles. “He was 4 under after 8 holes (and finished with five birdies and five bogeys). Dad was on fire on the front nine, but on the back nine he let off the gas pedal.”
Lee started playing golf when he was about 35.
“It took me one or two months to break 95,” he said with a grin. He gained a huge confidence-booster when he once shot a 59 on the par-71 Jefferson Park layout in Seattle.
The 6-foot-6 Hanson, who pitched 11 years in the major leagues including his first seven with the Mariners, shot a par-4 on the first playoff hole, beginning with an outstanding drive down the middle.
When asked if he might be more nervous in his first round at the Senior Open than he was in his first game in the majors, Hanson picked golf. But the career golf amateur hopes to employ the skills he used to win the Northwest Open at Lynden’s Homestead layout in 2004, still his favorite golf memory.
“It (the Senior Open) will probably be a little more nerve-wracking,” the affable Hanson said, recalling how an eighth-inning two-out error at shortstop let in two unearned runs in his big league debut in a 2-0 loss with a memorable battle with Minnesota Twins star Frank Viola 27 years ago.
“I didn’t start playing golf until my late 20s,” said Hanson, who pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings to beat the Milwaukee Brewers 1-0 in his second start for Seattle.
Hanson was actually disappointed with his 73, considering that he shot a 7-under 65 in a practice round in beautiful conditions Sunday.
“I’m extremely excited. It just hasn’t sunk in yet. I actually lucked out. Everything seemed different today,” Hanson said of Monday’s round. “We had a ton of wind (early) and there was some rain for eight holes.”
Hanson finished with three birdies and four bogeys.
There were only three Whatcom County golfers among 57 hopefuls at Loomis Trail. Blaine’s Jeff Coston, the Semiahmoo/Loomis director of instruction, shot 38-38-76. Bellingham’s Rick Weihe had 37-42-79 and Bellingham’s Bob Shannon went 39-41-80.
“That’s the highest I’ve ever shot here,” said Coston, who has won dozens of major honors in pro golf.
“It was not a Jeff-like day,” he said with a wry smile.
Tucker, 51, said he “came here to have fun” and did just that in his first crack at qualifying for the Senior Open.
Tucker, who teaches and plays out of Arlington’s Gleneagle GC, golfed two years at the University of Hawaii after two years at Butte College in Northern California.
“I turned pro in 1987 and chased the PGA Tour for 11 years,” said Tucker, who named his construction firm Pro-V1 after the golf ball. “I did a little of everything in golf.”
Tucker said Monday’s round was a major challenge.
“The course played tough,” said Tucker, who was among 2,445 golfers who entered the 34 sectionals with hopes of snagging one of only 71 qualifying spots. “I was looking forward to shooting par or better.”