By Joe Hornaday
Zach Tracy of Houston recently won the 88th Texas State Junior Golf Championship at Horseshoe Bay. A nearly-invisible crowd of 25 witnessed the two-hole sudden death playoff. It was quite different 50 years ago when hundreds crowded around the last green to see Austin’s Lester Lundell bring home the trophy.
(Lester hitting a tee shot at the State Junior Golf Championship in 1964. What a great swing.)
August 14 marks the 50th anniversary of what was truly a remarkable event for a number of reasons. Played at San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park Golf Course, it was the first time competitors had to qualify locally in order to get to play for the biggest prize in junior golf in Texas. It was the first time Baby Boomers completely filled the field and it was the first time the championship flight was expanded to 64, twice what it had been previously.
Lundell, 16, had made a name for himself locally with his compact swing and deadly putter. But he was little more than a long shot since Texas was overflowing with hordes of scratch juniors. Almost 900 tried to qualify locally, with 222 advancing to San Antonio. Lester posted the low-round of 71 at Muny to lead 11 other Austinites (out of 46) to the state tournament.
The first day was an 18-hole qualifying round and Lester had to gut it up after a horrible front-nine 42. He quickly refocused and carded an even-par 35 to qualify for the championship flight by a single stroke.
The match-play portion started the next day and Lundell easily advanced by whipping Dick Adams of Corpus Christi 5&3. That turned out to just be a prelude to what would become a marathon of golf in San Antonio’s August heat and humidity. The third day, he got by Austin High teammate Joe Hornaday 2&1 and in the afternoon beat Beaumont’s Mike Nugent 4&3 to reach the quarterfinals.
A pair of tough matches awaited: first it was Kurt Cox of San Antonio falling 2&1 and then Jerry Barrier of Sinton in the afternoon by the same count. Both would go on to play on the PGA Tour.
That set up the 36-hold championship match against Chip Stewart of Dallas, who later would play in the No. 1 spot for the University of Texas golf team. Lundell jumped out to a 4-up lead after nine holes and then had to keep his composure down the stretch. He was 1-up as they teed off on the par-3 36th hole. Stewart missed the green but chipped up and made the par putt. Lundell hit the green but left his putt three feet short and had to make it to win. After stepping back once, he calmly made a perfect stroke and he was suddenly the best junior golfer in Texas.
What makes it even more noteworthy, Lester had to efficiently play 135 holes in five days, including 32, 34, and 36 holes the last three days. The state juniors’ format was changed a few years later to medal play. It was reasoned the best player would be assured after 54 holes. What they didn’t know then and still don’t, is how the kids are missing the massive drama that Lundell experienced, and survived, 50 years ago.
Those of us who know Lester wish him the best with his current health issues. He’s been a great friend and golfer here in Austin for a long time. Click here to see a player profile for Lester and a list of some of his golfing accomplishments.