A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Lee Wielansky hit ’em straight to become Pro-Am Winner at American Express Tournament!

Lee Wielansky and Nick Dunlap.

Lee Wielansky had an especially good vantage point to watch the American Express Tournament in La Quinta, Calif. last weekend. He was competing in the PGA Tour event. Wielansky, 72, was also the winner of the pro-am portion of the tournament at 34 under par and accepted the trophy alongside Nick Dunlap, the winner of the professional portion of the event.

The format of the pro-am event is “best-ball,” meaning each player hits his own ball but the recorded score is the best of each twosome. Each amateur player is matched with a pro partner. The pros who played alongside Wielansky were Kevin Yu, Joseph Bramlett and Robbie Shelton.

Wielansky, a member of both United Hebrew Congregation and Temple Emmanuel, has played golf since he was 8 years old. He’s always had a passion for golf and has won tournaments before, but nothing quite like this. At his home courses (Westwood Country Club and Boone Valley Country Club) he plays with friends. At the PGA West Stadium Course last weekend, he teed off being watched by huge galleries.

Lee Wielansky

That tournament included 156 amateurs and 156 pros. Wielansky was the oldest amateur playing. He has a golf handicap index of 13. (The handicap is a number that represents a golfer’s ability on an average golf course.) PGA West was no average course, though. It has large, fast undulating greens, elevated greens and an island green on the 17th hole and a water-lined fairway on the 18th hole.

The setting, TV cameras recording every shot and loud applause—or groans—from the gallery are enough to unsettle a player who’s not used to playing in front of thousands of onlookers. Wielansky said he just tried to focus and played his regular game.

“I focused on just taking my regular swing, my regular routine, just playing my game,” Wielansky said. “I was trying to stay relaxed. I was trying not to get out of my normal rhythm or what I normally do because I hit it shorter than everybody else in my group.

“I got hot for nine holes, which made a big difference. My pro partner Kevin Yu was a terrific guy, a terrific player. He shot six under that day. He was two under on the front, four under on the back. One of the holes that I birdied, that I got a stroke on for eagle, he eagled. We really worked well together and had a really good day.”

The surreal experience of winning the pro-am was capped off when Wielansky accepted the 30-lb. crystal trophy and stood next to Nick Dunlap, the pro winner. In a bizarre twist, Dunlap is also an amateur player. At 20 years of age, he is the first amateur to win a PGA tournament in 33 years. Phil Mickelson was the last amateur to pull off that feat in 1991 before he turned pro.

Wielansky may not have had any butterflies, but his wife Laurie Katzman Wielansky was so nervous, she almost avoided watching the final round.

Lee and Laurie Katzman Wielansky

“I was hesitant the last day to even go out there,” she said. Part of me said, ‘I don’t want to make him any more nervous.’ But I knew I had to get out there. If he wins, I’ll never forgive myself if I wasn’t there. I just was so proud. It was an experience like no other.”

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About the Contributor
Bill Motchan, writer/photographer
Bill worked in corporate communications for AT&T for 28 years. He is a former columnist for St. Louis Magazine. Bill has been a contributing writer for the Jewish Light since 2015 and is a three-time winner of the Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish Journalism. He also is a staff writer for the travel magazine Show-Me Missouri. Bill grew up in University City. He now lives in Olivette with his wife and cat, Hobbes. He is an avid golfer and a fan of live music. He has attended the New Orleans Jazzfest 10 times and he has seen Jimmy Buffett in concert more t han 30 times between 1985 and 2023.