Stanford's Andrea Lee rockets to No. 1 with flair, and she's only improving

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Stanford's Andrea Lee rockets to No. 1 with flair, and she's only improving

Women

Stanford's Andrea Lee rockets to No. 1 with flair, and she's only improving

One day in her office four years ago, Stanford head coach Anne Walker received a call from a phone number with a 310 area code.

“I remember saying to (assistant coach) Lauren Dobashi, ‘A 310 number, it’s a So Cal person, maybe it’s Andrea Lee!’ ”

That would be Andrea Lee, maybe the top talent in the Class of 2016. Walker’s hunch was correct, and is she ever glad it was.

Lee, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., made the call that day and eventually chose Stanford over UCLA and USC, and her game hasn’t just translated to college golf, she’s exploded onto the scene.

Lee has three wins in five college starts as a freshman in 2016-17 and has ranked at No. 1 in the country on multiple occasions (she currently resides there, too). Freshmen won the first two iterations of the ANNIKA Award Presented by 3M – UCLA’s Alison Lee in 2014 and Duke’s Leona Maguire in 2015 – before then-junior Bronte Law, another Bruin, broke the streak last year.

But could Lee put the ANNIKA (the yearly award for the top player in women’s college golf) back in the control of the freshmen?

The results are promising, but don’t quite do the whole picture justice.

Lee captured Rolex Junior Player of the Year honors in 2014, and advanced far in several USGA championships prior to her introduction at Stanford.

Madie Chou, of Santa Ana, Calif., certainly knew of the reputation and now that Lee is her teammate at Stanford, she’s learned that the Lee legend wasn’t myth.

“Andrea’s like a machine,” said Chou, a fellow freshman. “Every shot just looks like it’s going right at the pin.”

Lee went about proving herself immediately for the No. 1 Cardinal, going up against a stacked field at the season-opening Windy City Collegiate Challenge and birdieing two of her last three holes – including rolling in an 8-footer at the last – to earn a one-shot win.

She proved it was no fluke two weeks later when she placed T-2 at the Stanford Intercollegiate. After a T-23 finish at the Nanea Pac-12 Preview, Lee finished the fall by defeating teammate Casey Danielson in a six-hole playoff for the individual title at the East Lake Cup. Her third victory came last week in a six-shot triumph at the spring-opening Peg Barnard Invitational.

Machine, indeed. Lee is renowned for her tee-to-green prowess and noted for her efficiency in her practice. Before we get too far, though, let’s emphasize something: Lee only seems like a robot in terms of her play.

When it comes to personality, the 18-year-old is oozing with it.

“I can’t imagine anyone Andrea doesn’t get along with,” Walker said.

Chou first met Lee a couple of years ago and came away with the impression that she was overwhelmingly kind. Lee’s dormmates seem to agree. At the Stanford Intercollegiate – less than a month after Lee first arrived at school – eight of her dorm companions showed up (with signs!) to cheer on Lee.

“I swear they must have bused them up from campus to watch her,” Walker joked.

For a player already used to beating up her opponents, Lee is remarkably go-with-the-flow. On one visit to Stanford, she went to see the James Bond movie Spectre with the team and fell asleep during the screening. (To be fair, she had seen the movie before.)

Lee is an avid karaoke singer, something Fox Sports took notice of at last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur. Lee was asked to show her singing chops in a TV interview, and she obliged by belting out Sam Smith’s ‘I’m Not The Only One’.

“(It) was super embarrassing,” Lee said. “I still can’t believe I did it.”

In fact, her dormmates know full well about the video and love to replay it for fun.

“Every time they play the video, it drives me nuts. I run away,” Lee said. “Sometimes (my dormmates) play the song I sang (I’m Not the Only One). They’ll just play it randomly to make fun of me.”

She takes it all in stride, though. After all, Lee’s rarely afraid to belt some vocals, and when it comes to the Stanford women’s golf team, “If you hear someone singing, it’s Andrea,” Chou said.

(And yes, Lee is indeed a pretty solid singer. When prompted, Walker offered an A- for Lee’s singing ability.)

The preparation on the way to that first win further proved Lee can deal with whatever comes at her.

The 18-year-old packed up her belongings for Stanford and then competed in the Women’s World Amateur Team Championships in mid-September. She flew back to San Francisco, and her parents met her at the airport with the car packed to the brim.

So much so that her dad, James, drove with some stuff on his lap, and Andrea and her mother, Sunny, were in tight quarters for the 30-minute ride to Stanford.

“My mom and I had to share half a seat,” Lee said. “We were just crammed in there.”

A few days later, Lee was playing in qualifying rounds, although those were more educational than anything.

After the summer Lee had – a finals trip at the U.S. Girls’ Junior, a quarterfinals appearance at the U.S. Women’s Amateur and a Curtis Cup appearance – along with the recent trip to the World Am, Walker brought the team together and floated the idea of Lee playing in the first event without a thorough qualifying.

The freshman’s new teammates didn’t even hesitate.

“They were like, ‘Coach are you kidding? She’s going!’ ” Walker said.

For good measure, Lee did post solid scores in qualifying rounds that served more as training. And she was off from there.

And now Lee could only become even more dangerous. The freshman was enthused by her two-win fall, but when coaches asked her what she could work on over break, she pointed to putting.

Lee was flushing it tee-to-green and was solid on the short grass, but she was missing some putts right and struggling from around 5 feet.

“I just wasn’t trusting it fully,” Lee said. “I would just push it out or knowing that I was continuously missing to the right, I would try to make it pull it a little left.”

After some testing, the coaches figured out that Lee was hitting her putts somewhat on the toe. A centering of her contact would do wonders, especially considering Lee owns an extremely repetitive stroke. Lee also focused on boosting her confidence over putts.

An hour of practice per day on putting over break got her on track, and the flatstick showed marked improvement at the Peg Barnard.

Nothing can stop Lee now, it seems. Not even car doors. As winter break neared its end in early January, Lee slammed a car door on her right thumb.

The jammed finger started to turn blue-ish, purple almost immediately.

“I was kind of freaking out,” Lee said.

A visit to the doctor’s office clarified that there was no sprain or break. For a few days she iced the throbbing thumb, and waited about a week from there to pick up a club again. For the first few days she practiced, Lee did so with her right thumb off the club on full shots in order to avoid pain and to keep the healing process going by not exerting much pressure on the damaged digit. Fortunately, by the time team practice started up again, the issue had largely subsided, and it hasn’t affected her golf game at all once the spring season kicked in.

Next up: The Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate, which starts on Sunday, Feb. 19. Is a fourth win in the coming days really out of the question?

Lee’s immensely talented, her putting’s improving and she’s in an environment at school that seems to suit her perfectly.

“She’s fulfilled (at Stanford),” Walker said. “She’s where she wants to be.”

Don’t expect Lee to drop off any time soon. She might just be getting started.

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