During his sophomore year at Bend’s Mountain View High School in 1989, Lonnie Damon showed up to his first golf match in knickers, much to the chagrin of his coach Jim Coon.
Damon went on to win the Intermountain Conference title that year, sporting his signature look the entire season.
“I told him as long as he was shooting good scores he could keep wearing the knickers — and he wore them for four years,” Coon recalls.
Damon repeated as IMC champion in 1990 and as a senior in 1991 was the co-champion at the Class 4A state golf championship. He is still the only golfer from Mountain View ever to win or share a state title.
He went on to a stellar collegiate career at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
In January 1999, at the age of 26, Damon was planning to make a run for the PGA Tour the coming spring when he was killed in a car accident about 55 miles east of Salem, between Detroit Lake and Idanha, on a slush-covered, icy state Highway 22. His wife, Kelli, who was driving, suffered minor injuries in the accident.
“I still think about that,” says Coon, who is retired and still lives in Bend. “We go over to Salem quite often, and you drive right by the place where it happened. I still think about the day I got the call from his dad to come over to their house, and just how devastating it was. He was such a good kid, and they’re a very strong Mormon family, too. He had just recently married, which made it even more tragic. That was probably the toughest coaching moment I ever had, going to his parents’ house. His brother John was there. …”
Twenty years after the tragic loss of the standout golfer from Bend, family members and former coaches offer fond memories of Damon.
John Damon says he still thinks about his younger brother every day. Many things in the Provo, Utah, area where he lives remind him of Lonnie. When he plays a round of golf at Riverside Country Club, BYU’s home course, he says he will often tell some story of “Lonnie hitting it here or there.”
“People remember the feats that he accomplished and a lot of things he did in golf,” John says. “I know he left a lasting impression.”
John Damon is now 48 and coaching the Spanish Fork High School girls golf team. Lonnie would be 46. John was a senior when Lonnie was a freshman at Mountain View.
“He was just such a great player,” John recalls. “His ability just to stay focused on a golf course, and just seemingly beat anybody out there … it was fun to watch him mature as a player.”
John bought his younger brother the knickers for Christmas in 1988 as a joke. But Lonnie decided he liked them and wore them his sophomore year and the rest of his high school career. He became recognizable by his old-school garb and as one of the first dominant Oregon high school golfers east of the Cascades.
“He’s probably one of the few kids to get away with (wearing knickers),” John says. “Other kids, their golf game wouldn’t have matched their ego to be able to wear those. But Lonnie was a humble kid; he really didn’t talk a lot. He let his golf game do all the talking for him. When you win most of the time, there’s not much anybody can say about your clothing.”
Coon called Lonnie a “dream kid” to coach.
“Lonnie had the good combination of passion and work ethic to really take his game to the next level,” Coon says.
And he did so at BYU. Again, he was a freshman when John was a senior, this time the brothers playing collegiate golf together.
During his career at BYU, Lonnie Damon won two major college tournaments, one of them the prestigious Arizona State University Thunderbird. He also competed in two U.S. Amateur Championships, in 1992 and 1994.
“Lonnie was one of those kids who had his own unique way of doing things,” says Bruce Brockbank, who coached Lonnie at BYU and remains the head coach. “He was a quiet, private kid, but you got him in a group and he started building trust with his team. And he went from this kid who was really shy and timid to a great leader. He was a pretty good player when he started, but by the end of his career he won the ASU tournament, one of the top events at the time. When the occasion was there for somebody to step up, Lonnie was the guy to always do that.”
At the time of his death, Damon was competing on the professional Cascade Golf Tour and had recently played in a Nike Tour event. He was planning to go to the PGA qualifying school that spring, according to his father, Pat Damon.
Brockbank says that Damon had a good chance to make the PGA Tour.
“He won enough collegiate events to where he definitely had a chance to make it,” Brockbank says. “He hit the ball really straight and was a good wedge player. When he got the putter going he could beat the best players in the country. A guy that is pretty focused and determined like Lonnie, you get playing well at the right time, there’s no question he could have made it.”
After Lonnie graduated from Mountain View, Coon would often have him come back and speak to his players, offering them encouragement and advice. Coon says Lonnie did not realize how big of a help he was.
“The kids back then could relate to his success,” Coon says. “This was Lonnie Damon, state champ, who went on and played at BYU. That made more of an impact than Jim Coon, old-man golf coach telling them something.”
John says that he and his parents lost touch with Lonnie’s wife, Kelli, about 15 years ago. He says she remarried a couple of years after Lonnie’s death. Kelli was 25 when Lonnie died.
“She needed to move on,” John Damon says. “That’s such a hard thing for a young kid. She was driving … it was an accident, but that’s a tough thing for a young kid to get through. At that young of an age you’ve got to try to find a way to move on and find some happiness in life. And I think she’s done that, which is what we all wanted for her.”
Shortly after his son’s death, Pat Damon started the Lonnie John Damon Golf Foundation, a tax-exempt entity formed to raise the level of youth golf and to provide scholarship assistance to budding collegiate golfers. For several years after Lonnie died, the Lonnie Damon Memorial Award was presented annually to the top individual at the three-round Central Oregon Classic boys high school tournament.
Pat Damon, now a part-time assistant golf coach for BYU, remembers his son Lonnie as a “very humble and quiet young man.” He was an Eagle Scout and strong academically, as well as on the golf course.
“Lonnie had all the attributes to be a PGA player,” Pat Damon says. “You never know how far he would have gone … he was just a great kid.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,