In the world of golf, Jack Nicklaus made a career-long habit of hanging around the top of major championship leaderboards.
Eventually, he hung around the top long enough to win 18 majors and finish second an astounding 19 times, all because he refused to go away as others fell back.
In a sense, that’s what happened last Sunday afternoon to reigning Bassmaster Classic champ Jordan Lee at the 48th Classic derby on Lake Hartwell.
Meaning that on a day when others seemed poised to win before falling short, Lee hung around and then hung around some more, eventually weighing a final day bag limit of five bass at 16 pounds, five ounces.
When the smoke had cleared from the weigh-in stage at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C., Lee’s three-day total was 47 pounds, one ounce and a pound better than runner-up Brent Ehrler and one pound, two ounces better than third-place Jason Christie. Matt Lee, Jordan’s older brother, grabbed fourth place at 43 pounds, 15 ounces, while Jacob Powroznik finished in fifth at 43 pounds, four ounces.
Ott DeFoe (6th, 42-13), Jacob Wheeler (7th, 42-13), Casey Ashley (8th, 42-12), Aaron Martens (9th, 42-09), and Gerald Swindle (10th, 42-02) rounded out the Top 10.
In beating the field of 51 other Classic qualifiers, including four-time champ Kevin VanDam who finished in 29th place, Lee won the $300,000 top prize and captured his second consecutive Classic championship to go with the one he won in dramatic fashion a year ago at Texas’ Lake Conroe.
In winning again, the 26-year old Lee joins VanDam and Rick Clunn as the only anglers in B.A.S.S. history to win back-to-back Classics. Clunn won his consecutive titles in 1976-77 while KVD won his two straight in 2010-11.
Unlike his 2017 championship in the Lone Star State (where Lee fished a pattern he knew could produce a huge sack of largemouths like the final day bag limit of 27 pounds, four ounces that allowed him to roar back from 15th at the beginning of Championship Sunday to 1st place by day’s end), a so-so practice this year on Hartwell left Lee believing this year’s Classic derby was likely not his championship to win.
“I was not planning on winning this tournament,” said Lee on Sunday evening after his triumph. “I just wanted to fish a good tournament and fish the way that I wanted to fish. As far (as the way) I fished (during the Classic), it’s not typically the winning pattern.”
Lee was fishing a morning feeding pattern for spotted bass along with a roadbed where spots would school, catching them on either a bone colored jerkbait or a Strike King Rage Swimmer. After that, it was a mixture of skipping docks, checking out some occasional grass, and running new water with several different baits including a Strike King Ocho, a Strike King Shim E Stick, and a Chatterbait.
“I didn’t have a game plan,” said Lee, who now has $1.06 million in career earnings in just four short years. “I just fished new water every day, places I had never seen. (I was) fishing a lot docks (but a lot were unproductive). I just knew that was my best chance in this tournament.”
In essence, the Carhartt and Mossy Oak Elements camouflage pro fished by the seat of his pants last weekend on the South Carolina/Georgia border lake.
“That typically doesn’t win tournaments here,” said Lee. “But it was my best stuff and that’s just how I approached this tournament.”
If running new water was one key for Lee on the 56,000-acre Hartwell, so too was keeping a smile on his face.
“That was my main goal this week,” said the two-time Classic champ. “A lot of people asked me coming in if I was nervous or had any more pressure (because of the 2017 win). But it was really the opposite, I just wanted to have fun and fish the way that I thought was my best chance of doing well.”
He did well indeed, doing what only two of the greatest anglers in the history of the sport have ever done.
“It’s really unbelievable,” said Lee, who has not won a regular Bassmaster Elite Series or B.A.S.S. Open event yet in his young career.
It certainly is something unbelievable, what an immensely talented young angler has already done, carving his name into the history books in a way most other pros can only dream of.
“It’s something about the Classic,” said Lee, who finished sixth in his first Classic on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville in 2014 after winning the berth through the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Bracket Championship. “This tournament, I don’t know what it is, but there’s definitely something special and it’s just worked out for me the last two years.”
Automatically qualifying for next year’s Classic with his win last weekend, Lee will have a chance — before his 28th birthday, no less — to do what no other man in bass fishing history has ever done.
And that’s winning three Classics in a row.
“Winning it one time was a dream, something that I thought I could never (top),” said Lee. “I didn’t think I could (top the 2017 win), but I guess I got close to it. This is really special and everything worked out.
“I guess it was meant to be.”
Once again, that is.