U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Andrea Lee's Dedication Paying Off July 24, 2014 By Tom Mackin

Playing in last month's U.S. Women's Open helped Andrea Lee's preparation for this week's U.S. Girls' Junior. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.—By the age of 10, Andrea Lee had been a competitive ice skater, the MVP of her youth soccer team and a first-degree black belt in Taekwondo.

Yet she put all of those sports aside to focus on golf.

Based on her performances so far this summer, it was the right decision.

In June, the 16-year old from Hermosa Beach, Calif., made the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina.

Later that same month, she won two consecutive American Junior Golf Association events: the Rolex Tournament of Champions and the inaugural Yani Tseng Invitational.

This week, she advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship on Friday at Forest Highlands Golf Club before losing to Marijosse Navarro (who later advanced to Saturday’s championship match) on the 18th hole.

In two weeks she heads to Nassau Country Club in Glen Cove, N.Y., to play in her third U.S. Women’s Amateur, where she advanced to the round of 32 in her first try as a 12-year old in 2012.

Oh, and she’s currently 17th in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™.

Not bad for the former multi-sport athlete, whose father James got her started in the game at age 5.

I just wanted her to be active and involved in sports, he said. I took her to the range one day and asked her if she wanted to hit some balls. She did. Then I asked her if she wanted to try golf and she said yes. I didn’t want to teach her myself because I wasn’t good, so I immediately got her lessons. I knew how bad habits created early on are tough to correct. I wanted her to learn properly.

Her coach told us from the beginning that she had great hand-eye coordination, said her mother Sunny. She also likes the challenge in everything she does.

Match play provides plenty of that and despite her disappointing finish today, Lee came away satisfied with her record this week.

Reaching the quarterfinals is the longest I’ve played in a USGA match-play event, she said. I’m pretty proud of myself but there are still things I need to work on.

Belief in herself is not one of them, especially after her experience at this year’s Women’s Open.

My goal there was to make the cut and to do that was pretty amazing, she said. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot that week from all the pros I met.

Her practice-round partners included eventual U.S. Open champion Michelle Wie.

That was crazy, she said of playing with her role model. She attracts a lot of people, especially during a practice round. I was trying to stay out of her way. I didn’t get to talk to her too much because she was so focused.

Even crazier? Lee also played a practice round with Mo Martin, who won the Ricoh British Women’s Open in July at Royal Birkdale.  

After that she said, ‘Mommy, do you realize I played with two major winners this year,’ laughed Sunny.

Despite being starstruck – her room at home now includes a picture with Wie and a Pinehurst No. 2 flag signed by other high-profile golfers -- Lee also realizes how the experience benefited her game.

The Women’s Open definitely boosted my confidence a lot, especially playing in front of all the crowds there, she said. It’s pretty nerve wracking but I think after that crowds don’t really bug me anymore.

That’s no surprise to her father. She is very unique in the sense that she likes a big stage, he said. She is actually pretty comfortable with that.

Her round-of-16 match Thursday against Gigi Stoll, of Tigard, Ore., was a case in point. Down two after nine holes, Lee remained calm. I just stayed patient and after the rain delay it turned in my favor, she said. After this week I need to work on different parts of my game and stay positive.

That viewpoint confirmed what her father has observed this summer.

One of the biggest ways she has really matured is to not really expect anything, just play as you go, he said. In her last three tournaments she has really taken it just one day at a time.

Balancing a competitive playing schedule with some degree of normalcy for a talented teenager isn’t always easy.

We try to play the majors of junior golf but we don’t want her schedule to be overwhelming, explained her father. She has to have fun too. She’s a teenager and likes to watch movies, read books and hang out with her friends.

Still, it’s hard not to get a bit overwhelmed by his daughter’s accomplishments so far.

It sort of hit me when I went to the U.S. (Women’s) Open, he said. Just seeing her around the best players in the world was when it really sunk in. When she was 8 years old I took her to see Michelle Wie play in the Samsung World Championship at Bighorn Golf Club (in Palm Desert, Calif.). Now to see her in the same field as Michelle, and watch as she played a practice round with her, was very exciting for all of us.

The 16-year old enters her junior year at Mira Costa High School already committed to play at Stanford University in 2016.

As parents we’re not in a hurry for her to turn pro because we want her to experience every level of golf, said her father. It’s a constant learning process and there is still so much to discover. We’re fortunate parents because she is a good student and is very responsible.

With no regrets about the sports she gave up, Lee has found golf to be like life in general.

You just have to stay patient no matter what, she said after her round today. It’s a solo sport. You really have to be patient with yourself out there. I just love the game so much. I don’t know what it is about it, but I do.

Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.