Two years ago, Minjee Lee and Alison Lee played a memorable final match at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif., for the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. Minjee Lee rallied late for a 1-up victory, and those in attendance realized these two talented golfers had bright futures in the game.
On Sunday in Daytona Beach, Fla., the teenagers shared the spotlight again, tying for medalist honors in the final stage of LPGA Tour Qualifying School, a 90-hole competition.
Minjee Lee, 18, of Australia, who turned professional in September after leading her country to a come-from-behind win at the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in Japan, carded a final-round 73 on the par-72 Hills Course at LPGA International for a 10-under total of 350. Alison Lee, 19, of Valencia, Calif., who went 3-1-1 to help the USA regain the Curtis Cup in June at St. Louis Country Club, shot a final-round 72.
The two led a group of 20 players out of a starting field of 154 who earned full status (known as Category 12) on the LPGA Tour for the 2015 season. Golfers finishing from 21st to 45th earned conditional status on Tour (Category 17), while the other 26 players from the starting field who survived the 72-hole cut will compete on the developmental Symetra Tour.
The competition was conducted on the Hills and Jones courses at LPGA International, with the low 70 and ties playing the final 18 holes on the Hills Course.
Ariya Jutanugarn, of Thailand, the 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, tied for third, one stroke behind Alison and Minjee Lee, after carding a final-round 71. Ariya’s older sister, Moriya (2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur runner-up), is already a member of the LPGA Tour.
Cheyenne Woods, of Phoenix, Ariz., the niece of nine-time USGA champion Tiger Woods and the medalist at the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, also earned her card, along with 2007 U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinalist Ha Na Jang, of the Republic of Korea. Jang was the 72-hole leader, but struggled to a final-round 80 to finish in a tie for sixth. Woods shot a final-round 70 to finish in a tie for 11th.
Two-time Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup competitor Stephanie Meadow, of Northern Ireland, who finished third at this year’s U.S. Women’s Open in her professional debut, was the final player eliminated in a seven-player hole-by-hole playoff for the final three Category 12 spots. The University of Alabama graduate was eliminated on the eighth hole and will have conditional status in 2015.
Alison Lee, a sophomore at UCLA, had entered Q-School as an amateur with the intention of turning professional if she earned her LPGA Tour card. When she left the scoring tent on Sunday, she had mixed emotions; she was excited about her pending professional career but also saddened over leaving friends and teammates at UCLA, where she earned the 2014 ANNIKA Award as college player of the year.
“When I made my par putt [at 18] and realized I got my LPGA Tour card I was just filled with joy, and when I thought about what it meant to be professional I thought about my team and my school and my coaches and it made me sad,” said Lee. “I get to start a new chapter in my life and hopefully it will be great and I’m really looking forward to the future.”
Alison Lee enjoyed a brilliant amateur career that included the runner-up finish in the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior final, as well as a semifinal showing at the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur at the Country Club of Charleston, where she lost to eventual champion and 2014 Curtis Cup teammate Emma Talley. She lost in the quarterfinals of this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Nassau Country Club to Brooke Mackenzie Henderson, of Canada, who is No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™. Lee won the Women’s North and South at Pinehurst No. 8 this summer.
“I don’t have any words to express how I feel right now,” said Lee, who will forego her final 2½ years of college eligibility.
“I’m going to try and juggle school with golf at the same time,” added Lee. “I still want to attend school so we’ll see how my schedule will work and we’ll see how it all plays out as the year goes on.”
Since her U.S. Girls’ Junior victory, Minjee Lee has won consecutive Australian Amateur titles (2013-14) and reached No. 1 in the world.
At this year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2, Lee contended for low-amateur honors with Henderson, losing out in the final round by three strokes.
“I am definitely relieved after this week and I never want to do Q-School again,” said Minjee Lee.
Along with Meadow, 2012 Curtis Cup competitors Charley Hull of GB&I and Lindy Duncan of the USA, and 2005 USGA Women’s State Team champion Jean Reynolds of Newnan, Ga., earned conditional status.
Notable players who made the 72-hole cut but failed to earn LPGA Tour status included 2005 U.S. Women’s Open champion Birdie Kim, 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion Brianna Do and USA Curtis Cup players Cydney Clanton (2010) and Jenny Suh (2006).
Su Oh, of Australia, who along with Minjee Lee helped Australia win this year’s Women’s World Amateur, also failed to gain LPGA Tour status after making the cut. Oh, who advanced to the quarterfinals in each of the last three U.S. Women’s Amateurs, had recently turned professional.
The most notable name to miss the 72-hole cut was amateur Annie Park, a University of Southern California All-American who played on the victorious 2014 Curtis Cup Team and won the 2013 NCAA individual championship. Park will return to USC to complete her junior year. Also missing the cut were two-time USA Curtis Cup competitor Jennie Lee (2006 and 2008), 1997 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Silvia Cavalleri, 2012 USA Curtis Cup teammates Lisa McCloskey and Erica Popson, 2010 Curtis Cup competitor Stephanie Kono and 2002 GB&I Curtis Cup competitor Vikki Laing.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information from lpga.com was used in compiling this story.