It’s in the hole: Central Kitsap's Lee battles sports writer in putt-putt

Mike Baldwin (left) grimaces when adding his score while competing in a mini golf putt-putt challenge against Erynne Lee last week. - Andrew Binion/staff photo
Mike Baldwin (left) grimaces when adding his score while competing in a mini golf putt-putt challenge against Erynne Lee last week.
— image credit: Andrew Binion/staff photo

Mini golf is more about luck than anything else.

That’s how Erynne Lee, a champion amateur golfer and recent Central Kitsap High School graduate, described the game to yours truly, an out-of-shape sports writer with a shot at winning a round of putt-putt, which didn’t require much athleticism.

Sure, Lee may have been in between tournaments when we faced off for 18 holes at Northwest Golf Range in East Bremerton last week, but there are no excuses.

I know I’ve said it before, but I thought I could finally triumph against an athlete in peak condition at her own game. This time, it was a battle of the sexes.

At 23, I like to still think I have the strength, smarts and luck to win a round of putt-putt, even if my opponent is attending the University of California, Los Angeles next fall on a full-ride golf scholarship before likely joining the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

I should also add that Lee, 18, will compete in the U.S. Women’s Open Championship in Colorado for the second time July 7.

But I’m not worried because putt-putt is all luck.

“It definitely requires some luck to win,” said Lee, referring to mini golf at our match, a day after winning the Washington State Women’s Amateur Championship in DuPont.

It wasn’t Sunday, nor will I become a Cinderella story out of nowhere who wins the Masters someday, but I donned the red Nike golf shirt a la Tiger Woods solely to psych out Lee. I even added a Washington State University hat, also red, to scare the future Bruin.

I meant business, or else I wouldn’t be standing by a waterfall next to a miniature golf course, grasping a bright pink putter, trying to defeat a teenager at putt-putt.

I was for real, so don’t let the pink give the wrong impression.

At no point during this 18-hole marathon would Lee benefit from her ability to focus on her shot and ace a putt now that the greens are surrounded by intentional distractions, right?

Once again, my optimism, or perhaps cockiness, was leveled once Lee and I reached the first hole.

Lee owned the first few holes, winning with ease. She didn’t need luck as long as her putting game was top-notch.

The red shirt, which was feeling a little snug, so much that it could have affected my game, was not working. Emulating Woods might not be a great idea after all.

But suddenly, I was chasing Lee, trailing only a few strokes after the first seven holes.

The Timberfalls course was my friend. Giant rock obstructions gave Lee grief, while I staged a comeback.

I played conservatively, which didn’t mean I was being a chicken, I simply didn’t want to lose my cool in a high-stakes match. I didn’t attempt any trick shots or gamble by trying a shortcut. Those tactics are for the brave.

I won the eighth hole after a two-putt finish. When we arrived to the ninth hole, I was stunned.

I paused to let Lee start, forgetting that I was up to putt first because I won the previous hole. Despite my driven attitude, or perhaps overconfidence, I didn’t think I would actually win a hole against the top high school golfer in the state.

One has to consider it’s still putt-putt, which meant no driving and chipping to the green, important facets of real golf, but I still claimed the victory. It may have been my last.

Momentum continued at the start of the back nine holes. We putted well on the 10th and 11th holes and knew that our scores were almost identical going into the final stretch.

Lee and I were in the midst of a tight game with a difference of a few strokes between us. But our brief time on the course was not a rivalry. Instead of trading barbs, Lee and I played the course with wide smiles and a good laugh behind our successes and miscues.

Lee’s happy-go-lucky yet focused mentality once again helped the 18-year-old standout achieve her goal. It’s just a shame it was at my expense this time.

After a brutal showing at the 12th hole which required five putts to complete, Lee was in control.

Not even a mulligan on the 16th hole could help me catch up. Like a pro, Lee waited until the end to seal the victory after my four-putt score on the last hole spelled doom.

To add insult to injury, I thought our scores were closer until Lee realized she miscounted. In the end, the state champion won 48 to 54 strokes. Losing by six wasn’t so bad when I thought about Lee’s career, which includes qualifying for a professional tournament twice.

Even on my best day, I was not going to win. My editor, Andrew Binion, bet on Lee to win, and as a result, scored a Subway sandwich.

Forget that the last time I was on a golf course I watched my driver fly 100 feet in the air after my hands let loose of the club before it struck a nearby car. I think it was the poor equipment.

As for Lee, who basked in the glory of consecutive victories in two straight days, she remained humble, albeit full of glee. She complimented the reporter in her victory speech.

“It was close, though,” said Lee, who added that she was a little nervous going into the final holes. “But the fact that none of the other athletes lost, I don’t want to lose face.”

Lee plans to spend most of her summer on the links, preparing for the Open next month. The Central Kitsap golfer said she’s ready.

Meanwhile, I’m sure I’ll be back on the golf course soon, maybe playing putt-putt. I’m glad the last memory of the game isn’t an errant golf club smacking into a car window.

Better luck next time.


Second photo: Erynne Lee (left) and Mike Baldwin share a laugh during the putt-putt challenge last week. Photo by Andrew Binion

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