When Randal “Randy” Lewis played in the finals of the 1996 U.S. Mid-Amateur, against John “Spider” Miller at the Hartford Golf Club near the Connecticut capital, he couldn’t stop thinking about the invitation to play in The Masters traditionally offered to the winner. And he thinks that hurt him as he lost that day to Miller 3 and 2. So when Lewis made it back to the Mid-Am finals, at the Shadow Hawk Golf Club outside Houston last September, he kept his mind focused on other things.
“I only thought about winning a USGA championship,” says Lewis, who works as a financial adviser in Alma, Mich. “I concentrated on that because that was the task at hand, and because there is nothing so important to an amateur golfer as winning a national amateur championship. Being invited to The Masters was something I could think about later.”
That strategy appeared to work, and it was only after the 54-year-old Lewis dispatched Kenny Cook at Shadow Hawk to become the oldest Mid-Am champ in history that he turned his thoughts to Augusta National.
“All I could think of was, what an unbelievable reward,” Lewis says.
And it is a reward that he is now collecting with great glee. “I love the golf course at Augusta,” he says. “I love the strategies and the angles you have to employ, and the greens are so much fun. I love the history of the golf course and the tournament, and I am looking forward to the experience. I know every day will be fun. I know every day will be unique. I know I am really going to enjoy myself.”
Playing in the year’s first professional major, and competing on such hallowed golfing ground, is simply the latest stop on what has been a remarkable golfing journey for Lewis. Born and raised in Michigan, he took up the game as a 16-year-old, when his father, who was a maintenance manager at the Total Petroleum Refinery in Alma, bought himself a set of clubs.
“I went outside to hit a few balls in our yard with his new clubs and was quickly hitting them better than he was,” Lewis recalls. “We played together a few weeks later, and I remember liking the game right away. I could not play enough. That summer, I worked at a meat market on weekends. So I played golf all week on the nine-hole public course. With those same clubs my father had brought home.”
Lewis started playing with better clubs as he started playing better, through high school and then at Central Michigan, where he majored in business as he also played on the golf team. He decided to turn pro after graduating and entered four events on the J.C. Goosie mini-tour. But he soon headed back home.
“Professional golf was a little tougher than it appeared to be on television,” he says.
Lewis ended up working at the same Total Petroleum Refinery where his father had toiled. And once he got his amateur status back, he started playing competitively again. “Right away, I qualified for the U.S. Amateur, in 1983,” Lewis says. “And that was the first time I thought I could be someone competitively.”
He has certainly been that, even though he could only play a few tournaments a year because he couldn’t get that much time off at Total, where he worked in the credit and marketing departments before the refinery closed in 1999. But he found it easier to make time for competitive golf when he became a financial adviser for Raymond James & Associates. And over the years, he established himself as one of the best players in the Wolverine State, winning a pair of Michigan Amateur titles, in 1992 and 1999, as well as the Michigan Mid-Am championship in 1998. In 2009, he was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame.
Lewis has also enjoyed success on the national level, advancing to the semifinals of the 1999 U.S. Mid-Am just three years after losing in the finals of that championship to Miller. Winning last’s year’s Mid-Am is the obvious career highlight.
Lewis has made three trips to Augusta National for practice rounds, and one thing he has learned is how hard the course plays from the Masters tees. “I am going to have to hit hybrids into six or seven greens during each round,” he says. “And I am not counting on getting home on any of the par 5s in two.”
Lewis will be coming to town with his wife, Melanie, and their two sons, Christopher and Nicklaus, the last one spelled exactly as the Golden Bear spells his last name. Lewis is renting a house in Augusta, which will have as many as 20 family members and friends on any given night, and will not be sleeping in the Crow’s Nest, in large part because he has sleep apnea and uses a breathing machine at night. “I don’t want to disturb any of the other amateur players, and at my age, my priority is to get as good a night’s sleep as possible.”
His other goal, of course, is to enjoy The Masters. Especially now that he can allow himself to do that.