By Mike Mazur
According to her college coach, a big burden has been lifted from Sung Ea Lee. So has a big victory.
Lee – winner of the 2002 Westfield Junior PGA Championship, one of the nation’s most prominent junior tournaments – was stripped of her title Feb. 27 by the PGA of America for not meeting the event’s age requirement. Lee, of Tacoma, Wash., was 18 years old at the time of her victory, which conflicted with the Westfield Junior’s age limit of 17. The discrepancy was first reported in the March 1 issue of Golfweek.
“She’s obviously upset and she regrets what she did,” said Mary Lou Mulflur, women’s golf coach at the University of Washington, where Lee is now a scholarship freshman. “She saw it as an opportunity to play in a tournament she would not otherwise have been able to play. She does not come from a very wealthy background and all the expenses were paid at the national event.
“But she knew all along what she did was wrong, and expressed to me that she felt as if a burden had been lifted. It had been weighing on her.”
Lee will not be reprimanded by the university, Mulflur said, and her teammates, while they do not condone Lee’s actions, have been supportive.
Lee was unavailable for comment, but did release a statement through the PGA.
“I apologize to the PGA of America, the sponsors of the tournament and my fellow competitors,” the statement read. “I made a mistake and I am very sorry about it.”
Lee’s birth date is June 10, 1984, which automatically made her ineligible for both the Pacific Northwest qualifier and the Westfield event, which ended July 1 and July 20, respectively. However, Lee signed for a birth date of June 9, 1985 on her official entry form.
Golfweek learned that Lee, who is originally from Guam, has a younger sister who also plays junior golf. The younger sister, Sung Ji Lee, has a registered birthdate of June 9, 1985. Sung Ji Lee did not play the Westfield event.
“It is unfortunate that this has happened,” said Kerry Haigh, the PGA’s senior director of tournaments.
The PGA has awarded the 2002 Westfield title to In-Bee Park, the event’s runner-up. Renee Skidmore, runner-up at the Westfield Junior Pacific Northwest PGA – the qualifier Lee won to earn a spot in the national event – has been awarded that victory.
For Park, 14, the Westfield victory completes a run of three major junior titles during the summer of 2002, including the AJGA Rolex Girls’ Junior Championship and the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.
“In-Bee was surprised,” said Park’s coach Charlie Yoo, after informing his
student of the PGA’s reversal. “She’ll take it, but she still lost to the older girl. I just wish it didn’t happen. Maybe they (the PGA) need a new age verification policy.”
The PGA of America does not require birth certificates from contestants, relying instead on accurate application disclosures, along with the signature of a player’s parent or legal guardian. This also is common practice among most state and regional golf associations, as well as the AJGA.
According to Haigh, however, the incident will not affect the PGA’s policy.
“This is the first time we’ve encountered a situation like this,” Haigh said. “The nature of the game is based on honesty and integrity.”
Haigh did say, however, that the PGA was considering raising its junior age limit to 18 to conform with the AJGA and other major bodies.