Alison Lee cruises to Annika Invitational title
REUNION, Fla. – Alison Lee’s first AJGA invitational victory was punctuated with a vicious lip-out for bogey. It didn’t matter. Lee had built herself a five-shot cushion heading to the final hole at Reunion’s Watson Course, and seconds later she was receiving the 18th-hole victory shower that has become customary at the Annika Invitational.
Annika Invitational: Final Round, in pictures
View images from the final round of the Annika Invitational at Reunion Resort on Monday.
Still, Lee couldn’t forget about that bogey.
“I can’t believe I missed that putt,” Lee groaned after signing for a third consecutive 1-under 71. “I don’t feel like I won.”
Informed that she had not just won, but won by four shots, Lee paused, smiled and shook off her frustration. It was back to the easygoing player who has a tendency to be a little hard on herself.
For a junior who has collected nearly every other accolade in the game, an invitational victory was long overdue. Lee, of Valencia, Calif., played her first AJGA tournament as a 12-year-old, her first invitational when she was 13. She has four career AJGA wins, and has twice qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open. She has represented the U.S. in the Junior Ryder Cup and the Junior Solheim Cup.
After back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2008 and ’09 at the McDonald’s Betsy Rawls Girls Championship, Lee, now 16, began to get worried about closing. She finished in the top 5 at all four invitationals in which she played in 2011, including a tie for second at the Rolex Girls Junior Championship.
On the eve of the final round at the Annika, as Lee was tied with Samantha Wagner atop the leaderboard, she talked about the long-overdue invitational title.
“All my friends who are the same age as me, they’ve won a couple of tournaments already. It just makes me want to have the opportunity to win one, too,” she said.
Annie Park, who roomed with Lee for the week, maintains Lee wasn’t nervous the night before the final round. Lee, however, said she spent considerable time Monday thinking about what would unfold at the 18th hole.
“Ever since the first (hole), I was just thinking about what was going to happen on 18,” she said jokingly. " ‘Who’s going to win? What’s going to happen on 18?’ I’ve been in this position before, being in the last group, being in first place coming into the last round.”
Despite gusting winds, scores were low during the final round. After a birdie at No. 1, Lee had two bogeys to finish the front nine. She coaxed in birdie putts at Nos. 11 and 12, then dropped a 30-foot bomb for another birdie at No. 13 to pull away from Wagner, who went 4 over in those holes. From there, Lee was all but untouchable.
The crowd around the finishing hole seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief when Lee tapped in for bogey and the long-awaited title. After unloading a bottle of water on Lee’s head, Park spoke of Lee’s outgoing nature - one that makes her someone whom her friends like to see succeed.
“When you have a bad round, she’ll be there for you,” Park said.
Even in a midsummer slump - Lee withdrew before the end of the Junior PGA Championship and finished last in stroke-play qualifiers at the U.S. Women’s Amateur - it was difficult to judge the state of her game from Lee’s expression. The tall, lanky Lee sometimes lets her posture slump, barely noticeable from across the fairway, but the smile rarely disappears. After a round, she’ll talk herself into excitement, much like after the Annika.
Finally, Lee can, in her mind, join the AJGA’s elite. One could argue she’s been among them for years.
Lee already has committed to UCLA for the fall of 2013, but unlike some juniors who commit to a college early, she won’t cut down her summer schedule. The new goal for 2012 is to earn Rolex Player of the Year honors.
“When I go home, I’m just going to grind, grind, grind and just do better, get better.”