Lee advances at Girls' Jr.; grandma along for the ride

Defending champion Minjee Lee finished in third stroke play at Sycamore Hills Golf Club.

Defending champion Minjee Lee finished in third stroke play at Sycamore Hills Golf Club.

Girls Rankings »

#NameYearStateRating
1Nicole Morales2014NY69.32
2Andrea Lee2016CA69.82
3Bethany Wu2015CA69.83
4Megan Khang2015MA70.01
5Lilia Vu2015CA70.53

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – There is only a short window of time in which to win a U.S. Girls’ Junior title, and defending champion Minjee Lee’s is closing. The Australian will be 18 next May, and thus ineligible. You might say this week at Sycamore Hills is Lee’s final hurrah.

It’s fitting that it’s also a final hurrah, of sorts, for Lee’s grandmother Angela. Now 73, Angela told her granddaughter this year that she wanted to accompany her granddaughter on a summer golf trip to the U.S. Angela was the one in Minjee’s gallery on Tuesday that you couldn’t miss – she had on the bright purple, blue and white shirt.

"She was like, 'I’m getting old so I’m going to come with you to the States for the last time,’ " Minjee said.

The final third of the traveling Lee caravan is Minjee’s mother Clara, who was at Lake Merced Golf Club outside San Francisco a year ago when Minjee won this title.

Since that tournament, Lee has made considerable improvement in her wedge play, mostly from 55 to 90 yards. Lee’s instructor Richie Smith, also in Fort Wayne on Tuesday, has worked with Lee’s swing and walked in her gallery for the final nine holes, as Lee had four birdies and two bogeys. Her second-round 69 took her to 4 under for stroke play, now the third seed in match play behind medalist Bailey Tardy and runner-up Lilia Vu.

A year ago, Lee won the from the No. 12 seed, nearly an unknown in the U.S. Lee still has not played an LPGA event on U.S. soil, but tied for 55th at the LPGA season opener in Australia and tied for 16th at the LET opener there. She’ll work on getting more professional exemptions in the year to come. The more Lee is around U.S. junior golfers, the more she feels the pull to play for a U.S. college, but she says that’s still not likely to happen.

“I think I’ll end up not going to college,” Lee said after walking out of the scoring tent on Friday.

That suggests an impending professional career, but Lee is uncertain about when she’ll actually launch it.

“When I’m ready, I think,” Lee said. “When I feel ready, which is probably not going to be ever. When I’m confident and when I want to do it.”

At No. 4 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Lee is the highest ranked player in the field. She’s also one of only two Australians (the other is Hannah Green, who tied for 43rd in stroke play). World No. 2 Su-Hyun Oh, who fell in the second round of last year’s Girls’ Junior, withdrew before the start of the tournament.

When Lee reaches the end of this event, whether that’s the championship match or sooner, she plans to join fellow Australian National Team members at a golf retreat in Houston. After a few days there, Lee then hopes to avenge last year’s first-round loss at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

Then it’s back to Australia. For Angela, it’s back home for good, but for Minjee, the story seems much different. She’s only getting started.

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