RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Alison Lee still has a lot of details to sort out this week, but the most important is settled. That’s proven by the bright red envelope with which she was presented on the 18th green at Mission Hills’ Palmer Course on Tuesday evening. It gets her into this week’s Kraft Nabisco Championship.
Lee, of nearby Valencia, Calif., became the sixth amateur to enter the field at 2012’s first LPGA major after beating 17 of the top junior girls in Southern California at the Legacy Junior Challenge. The juniors were paired with members of the LPGA Legends Tour for the inaugural event, and Lee drew Hollis Stacy, who will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame later this spring.
“She is the real deal,” Stacy drawled outside the scoring tent as she gripped Lee around the shoulders, later gushing about her maturity and her quality of shots. Lee credited part of her 4-under 68 to yardages and reads she received from the four-time major winner.
The Kraft will be Lee’s third start in an LPGA major. She also played in the 2009 and ’10 U.S. Women’s Opens, making the cut in 2009. She’s been gunning for a spot in the Kraft since watching fellow juniors like Kristen Park and Ariya Jutanugarn (both received exemptions in 2011) play the event.
“As soon as they came out with this tournament it was my goal,” said Lee, No. 3 in Golfweek’s rankings. And with runner-up Lilia Vu following close behind on the final holes, Lee said she was simultaneously trying to avoid tears at the thought of the not finishing on top and getting pinches from friend Esther Lee to stay in the game.
Esther, by the way, has volunteered to caddie for Alison this week. She’ll have to cut class to do it, but as Alison said happily, “She said she’d miss school for me.”
With a caddie locked in, all that remained for Alison on Tuesday evening was paperwork. Meanwhile, her mom Sung Kim tried to figure out the logistics. Both she and her husband John have to work the rest of the week. Sung Kim pondered calling in grandparent reinforcements.
As Lee finally prepared to leave the 18th green, after accepting an overwhelming amount of hugs and congratulations from friends, fans and LPGA greats until her face registered complete exhaustion, Stacy appeared on the hillside behind the green and shouted down to Lee that if she could corral a caddie for the evening, she was cleared to play nine more holes on the Dinah Shore course.
Lee’s shoulders slumped. There had been enough golf already, and it’s not like she doesn’t have enough practice at that venue. She won the AJGA’s ClubCorp Mission Hills Desert Junior on the Dinah Shore course in 2010, and even got to jump into Poppie’s Pond.
And so continues the year of Alison Lee. She already has won the Annika Invitational in 2012, the first AJGA invitational win of her career even though she’s been playing the elite junior events since she was 12. After that long-overdue victory, Lee, a UCLA commit, set a new goal of winning AJGA Rolex Player of the Year honors.
In the meantime, however, a few more short-term goals may be in order. If she makes it to weekend play, her parents can join her gallery. And if she keeps swinging so smoothly, it’s hard telling what might follow.
“I just want to keep it going,” she said.