Rookie of the Year would have meant more to Lee

I’m happy for Brent Ehrler.

He’s a class guy, an absolute hammer on the professional tour and plenty deserving of any trophy or title that comes his way.

I think it’s cool he was named Toyota Bassmaster Rookie of the Year last week at Sturgeon Bay.

But at the same time, I can’t help but feel bad for Jordan Lee.

Lee finished second in the ROY standings – and like Ehrler, he’s a great guy.

His ninth-place finish in the Angler of the Year standings at age 24 suggests he’s one of the brightest young anglers in the world.

Plus, he’s actually a rookie, while Ehrler is just a grizzled veteran fishing a new tour.

I know, I know.

I made a big deal of the rookie debate back in March with a column that said any new angler on the Elite Series should be classified as a rookie – no matter how old he is, how many tournaments he’s fished or how much money he’s won.

I was convinced I was right, because so many other sports do it that way.

But that was before I spent a year on tour, looking at the faces and learning the personalities of the guys who actually do this stuff for a living.

There’s nothing rookie-ish about Ehrler, who had won a Forrest Wood Cup and more than $2 million with FLW before qualifying for the Elite Series.

The same was true of Jacob Powroznik when he won ROY in 2014.

I’ve heard people say Powroznik seemed almost offended when he was handed the ROY trophy last year at Escanaba, Mich. When you consider he’d already won nearly $1 million on the FLW Tour, you can sort of understand why.

To me, Ehrler always seemed more embarrassed than offended by the rookie issue – even though he’s far too classy to admit it.

“I think it’s a really cool thing,” Ehrler told me when I asked about his impending ROY win earlier this year in Waddington, N.Y.

Then he quickly changed the subject.

“The thing I’m most worried about, though, is making the Classic,” he said. “That’s the most important goal for me in my career right now.”

Like I said, pure class - and not at all rookie-ish.

At this point, I think it’s important to note that decisions on things like ROY are made miles above my head by people who have lived and breathed bass fishing for longer than I’ve lived and breathed. They always do things with a purpose in mind, and they don’t need or ask for my input.

With more guys switching tours, there’s a lot of talk about this issue every year, and I really don’t know what the solution is.

But wouldn’t it have been nice to hear a young guy like Lee stand on stage at Sturgeon Bay and gush about what it meant for him to win Rookie of the Year?

Wouldn’t it have been great to have magazine spreads, celebrating a Rookie of the Year season that saw Lee finish in the money at seven of the eight Elite Series events?

Wouldn’t it have been special to have had a genuine Rookie of the Year battle throughout the season between Lee and Micah Frazier – another up-and-comer who placed third in the ROY standings?

Instead, it seemed like a foregone conclusion after his ninth-place finish at Guntersville that Ehrler would lock up the ROY when the schedule shifted back to his stomping grounds on the West Coast in April. That’s pretty much how it played out with Ehrler placing 28th on the California Delta and 13th on Lake Havasu.

When the dust settled at Sturgeon Bay, Ehrler, Lee and Frazier all earned berths to the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro. Like Ehrler said, that’s the most important thing that can happen to a bass angler.

And despite the lack of an official title, I don’t think sponsors are going to overlook Lee or Frazier. Finishing second to Powroznik in 2014 certainly didn't seem to hurt Justin Lucas.

But in an age when we seem to be obsessed with genuine titles and the notching of our belts, it would have been nice to see this award go to someone who could have actually worn it as a badge of honor.

Brent Ehrler was fine with it.

Jordan Lee could have made something of it.