If practice makes perfect, imagine how good Tain Lee can become once he has no schoolwork to worry about.
Lee, a senior at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, an NCAA Division III school in Claremont, Calif., is an economics major and self-described “weekend golfer” during the fall because of his demanding course load. Even during the spring, when the Stags play most of their events, weekday practice time is rare.
As a sophomore, Lee had enough of the demanding course load. He intended to transfer up the road to the University of California at Berkeley to play Division I golf and pursue his dream of playing professionally.
“He came to me during the holidays and said that he felt like he could better prepare himself playing against the better players,” CMS coach Bim Jollymour said. “I encouraged him that if that’s what he wanted to do, to follow his dreams.”
That spring, Lee won the NCAA Division III individual title and reconsidered.
“I guess it’s hard to argue with something that’s working,” he said.
After that wire-to-wire victory, Lee received invitations to some of the top amateur events. As it turned out, he got his chance to compete against the Division I stars without having to transfer.
“He called me early in the summer and said, ‘I’ll be playing against these guys all summer long, and you know what? I don’t see any reason to leave,’ ” Jollymour said. “He said, ‘I’d like to come back, if you can find a place for me.’ ”
Lee, of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., nearly repeated as national champion in 2011, finishing runner-up and earning more amateur exemptions.
Lee posted some key top 10s: a tie for second at the Western Refining Classic, a premier event for Divisions I, II and III All-Americans; quarterfinals of the California State Amateur; and a tie for eighth in at the Southern Amateur.
“I definitely try to represent Division III in those events, because we’re all in the same boat,” Lee said. “It’s a lot harder to get recognized, and opportunities are kind of short to come by at the D-III level.”
Lee relishes his occasional pairings against golf’s biggest names, but he has no regrets about staying at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
“Academically, I feel like (CMS) is second to none,” Lee said. “You are truly a student-athlete. I love that we are able to compete at such a high level golf-wise, but at the same time, there are no shortcuts academically.”
Despite his intense focus on academics, Lee has the same post-graduate goals as most premier college players: to play golf for a living.
“I’m going into my senior year, and I can’t wait for all that brings with it,” Lee said. “But at the same time, I can’t wait to get out of school and focus 100 percent of my attention on golf and see how good I can get.”
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START AT THE TOP: The first Golfweek/Sagarin College Ranking of the season was released this week. Stanford, on the strength of its dominant victory at the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational, is the first No. 1 team of the season. No surprise there. The nation’s top-ranked individual? Toledo’s Dugan Murphy, who posted a four-shot win at the Inverness Intercollegiate. The Inverness event was shortened to 18 holes after weather rained out Monday’s 36-hole day. Murphy’s 5-under 66 was the day’s only sub-70 score. It was the lowest round of his career and his first collegiate title. Murphy is a senior from Okemos, Mich.
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A LOOK AHEAD
What: William H. Tucker Invitational
When: Sept. 30-Oct. 1
Where: UNM Championship Course, Albuquerque, N.M.
Why it’s important: New Mexico, coming off a fourth-place finish at the Golfweek Conference Challenge, hosts this long-time event. Arizona State, UNLV, BYU, North Texas and San Diego State also highlight the field.
What: Rod Myers Invitational
When: Oct. 1-2
Where: Duke University Golf Club, Durham, N.C.
Why it’s important: Duke, which returns four of five starters from the team that made match play at the NCAA Championship, hosts this event named for the late Rod Myers. Baylor, Iowa, Michigan and North Carolina also highlight the field.
– Sean Martin contributed to this report.