Hometown hero Lee Hodges a household name after 3M Open win
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Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic
BLAINE, Minn. – Every so often, Savannah Hodges will hear a knock at the front door of her Ardmore, Alabama home.
“Is Mr. Lee home?” is typically the response she gets as she opens the door and finds a group of young kids on the other side.
To Savannah, Mr. Lee is just Lee. Her high school sweetheart from the small town across the road. The man that, despite his PGA TOUR pro stature, moved back with her to their hometown area of just 1,500 people to be closer to family.
To the kids, Hodges is their hometown hero — one of the very few professional athletes ever to call the small town on the Alabama-Tennessee border home.
“They just want to be near him,” Savannah says.
Hodges' local celebrity hasn’t yet carried far outside his Northern Alabama town. Lee and Savannah travel from event to event largely anonymously. That might change after Sunday.
Hodges’ final-round 67 at the 3M Open put an emphatic end to a career week culminating in a seven-shot wire-to-wire triumph for his first PGA TOUR victory at TPC Twin Cities. Hodges moves from 74th to 33rd in the FedExCup and is exempt into next year’s Designated events and major championships.
Lee Hodges: Ardmore, Alabama legend
“Oh, he’s a rockstar back home,” says Jay Seawell, his college coach at Alabama who flew to Minnesota Sunday morning to surprise Hodges. “... I’m glad that America and golf fans get a chance to meet him.”
If you want to know anything about Hodges, it starts in that hometown of Ardmore. His best friends are still the ones he made in high school. His caddie, a few years his senior, is from there and played college golf at Auburn. His step-grandfather is the town’s mayor. His dad announces the high school basketball and football games.
It was there he dreamed of playing college golf at the University of Alabama. While most in his town were interested in football or basketball, golf compelled Hodges. He was lightly recruited by Seawell and the Crimson Tide out of high school but was initially passed up for the last scholarship spot.
“I was a fool,” Seawell says, reflecting on passing him up the first time. “My wife said, “Why are you not recruiting Lee Hodges?’ … I wasn’t smart enough the first time.”
He didn’t have to live with the mistake for long. After two years at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Hodges transferred in — no hard feelings on Hodges' end. In fact, the golfer Seawell initially chose instead is now one of Hodges’ best friends.
After college, Lee and Savannah initially moved to Birmingham. It didn’t last long. Soon enough he was back in Ardmore. He’s a hometown boy, through and through.
“They announced me on the first tee from Athens, but if anybody asks, I'm from Ardmore,” he said.
Don’t worry, a large section of the crowd didn’t need the clarification. Alongside Seawell, a “couple dozen” natives from Ardmore made the same early morning trip to cheer on their hometown golfer. He had another 50 or so watching back home at Canebrake Club, the course he grew up playing.
“I left at 3:30 a.m. to be here,” said one as he stood along the rope line by the 12th green.
The caravan of supporters followed Hodges all 18 holes. They were there on the second hole when Hodges stuffed an iron to 5 feet for his opening birdie of the day. Hodges insisted there were no nerves. That was the first indication.
They cheered vociferously on the par-5 sixth as Hodges knocked a 3-wood to 12 feet and sank an eagle to take a seven-shot lead.
After a bogey on the ninth, his first blip of the day, all Savannah had to do was look at Hodges’ body language. “Oh, he’s fine,” she said. “I know nothing about golf, but I can tell how he’s doing with his body language.”
Sure enough, he steadied with pars at 10 and 11. Then his gallery went wild as Hodges took that same 3-wood and hit it to 3 feet for his second eagle of the day on the par-5 12th.
“Those were two of the greatest shots I ever hit,” Hodges said of approach shots that set up eagle.
His most memorable shot might have come on the 18th, though. Hodges spent Saturday evening vowing to be aggressive. In his mind, passiveness cost him a chance at the 2022 American Express, where he was the 54-hole co-leader. If the two eagles weren’t aggressive enough, Hodges stuck his approach on the 18th to 2 feet for a concluding birdie. Not only had he won, he won by seven — the largest margin of victory on TOUR since Rory McIlroy’s 2019 RBC Canadian Open win.
Savannah watched as Hodges tapped in and gave his caddie Andrew Medley a bear hug.
“I feel numb. This was his dream and he did it,” she said.
Soon after, she ran out to congratulate him. Then came Seawell, Hodges’ agent Jeff Stacy and his childhood best friend to share in the moment. It wasn’t long before Hodges realized the mob of hometown supporters who made the last-minute trip to watch his dream become a reality.
It was as if Hodges was back in Ardmore for a moment. He celebrated with the people who celebrated him long before he was a TOUR winner. A little slice of Alabama all the way up in Minnesota.
“I'm super proud to be from there and represent those people,” he said. “Man, I'm sure there is a party going on in north Alabama right now.”