(CBS4) – When the Colorado School Of Mines golf team tees off this spring, they will be carrying brand new golf bags that do more than carry their clubs. They will carry on the legacy of former Mines All-American Michael Lee.

“He was a team captain, a great player, such a big part of our program and it’s really just a small thing we can do to honor him while we’re playing,” said Mines golf coach Tyler Kimball.

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Lee came to Mines from Greeley where he was a promising junior golfer. It didn’t take long for Michael to fit right in with the nationally ranked Orediggers.

“I was definitely envious of Mike’s golf skill,” said former teammate and  PGA Tour Pro Jim Knous. “He was one of those naturally talented golfers where he could pick up a club and hit it just as well as I could.”

Michael was a two-time conference player of the year. He won four college golf tournaments including the prestigious Division II National Preview.

“The field was filled with All-Americans and the way he played was so steady,” recalled Kimball. “He torched the field a little bit that day.”

Michael’s most notable victory came in the 2011 State Match Play. With fellow competitor and childhood friend Parker Edens on the bag, Michael stepped on the 18th tee at Bear Creek tied and with no fear.

“All tied going to 18 and Mike takes this super aggressive line off the 18 tee and I was like that’s down in the canyon that’s gone,” said Edens. “It carries and he’s got a flip wedge in and he hits it to a foot and a half and (Jonathan) Marisco gives it to him and the match is over. It was so cool.”

After graduation Michael stepped away from competitive golf but he did card his only career hole-in-one. He also became a petroleum engineer and in 2020 married the love of his life, Morgan.

Life was good until last November when Michael started feeling ill. Like so many Americans he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and hospitalized at Lutheran.

“Even after a couple week you thought he’s alright,” said former teammate Chad Herges. “He was texting us, we were joking around giving him a hard time.”

While Michael did feel better at times, the 28 year old with no pre-existing conditions ultimately passed due to COVID complications, less than 6 weeks after feeling ill and on the 6 month anniversary of his wedding.

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“To see the route it went was devastating,” said Knous. “I just think of him and his family every day.”

Now family and friends are coping with Michael’s death the best way they know how. By keeping his memory alive.

At Mines, Michael’s accomplishments are well documented and moving forward the team captain will use the Michael Lee memorial locker.

“There’s going to be a nice plaque and it’s going to list his accomplishments,” said Kimball. “Those are just golf accomplishments, I hope they ask the questions, ask a little bit about Mike what he was like as a person and what he meant to our program.”

Meanwhile, Edens petitioned the Colorado Golf Association to honor Michael as well. He and a friend sent a letter to the CGA asking them to award a medal to the Match Play champion in Michael’s honor. The CGA agreed.

Michael Lee, it’s a common name, but one that leaves behind an uncommon legacy.

“I think his legacy is how he impacted other people,” said Knous. “He was never looking at himself or doing things for himself and was always more concerned with other people.”

“”How much do you miss Michael?” I asked Herges.

“It’s damn near every day that you think of him.”

“It’s unbelievable,” said an emotional Edens. “We hadn’t been in touch as much and you just wish you could have one more beer with him or play 9 holes with him.”

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The family has set up a foundation in Michael’s honor. It will support the Colorado School of Mines and junior golf in Northern Colorado. You can find it at michaelraylee.com.

Eric Christensen