Lee, 16, fighting slump at U.S. Women's Am

Alison Lee during Tuesday stroke play of the U. S. Women's Amateur Championship at Rhode Island Country Club in Barrington, Rhode Island.

Alison Lee during Tuesday stroke play of the U. S. Women's Amateur Championship at Rhode Island Country Club in Barrington, Rhode Island.

BARRINGTON, R.I. – Alison Lee isn’t a name often found at the bottom of a leaderboard. It happened Tuesday during stroke-play qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Amateur, drawing little more than a look of bewilderment from the 16-year-old Lee as she walked out of the scoring tent.

Lee, of Valencia, Calif., had just signed for a 28-over 170 at Rhode Island Country Club, which left her two shots behind the next-to-last player on the leaderboard. Admirably, there were no tears from Lee – no clubs thrown, no temper tantrums. There were only petite shoulders slumped in a mix of exhaustion and frustration.

“A little bit has to do with being a little tired, this is my fourth week in a row on the road,” Lee explained. “Mentally, if I hit one bad shot I just keep thinking bad thoughts instead of just letting it go.”

Lee’s dad John calls it a mystery. He remembers the same thing happening last year about this time, as Alison missed the cut at the Rolex Tournament of Champions, U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur. John stuck to the shade spots Tuesday, watching as his daughter made the best of a round in which nothing went quite right. Mom Sung Kim was on Alison’s bag, and offered many reassuring smiles.

Lee, Golfweek’s No. 3-ranked junior, says most of her struggles are off the tee, as she isn’t exactly sure what the ball might do. Lowlights of this week included taking a 10 on the par-4 seventh hole in Monday’s opening round, which put her at 13-over 49 at the turn. She followed with 37, but couldn’t break 40 on either 9 Tuesday.

“It’s mostly my fairway woods,” Lee said. “When I’m on the ground I can hit it a little better (than) if it’s on the tee or something. Today, yesterday – obviously I’m not happy with it but what can you do?”

Last year’s slump can be attributed to a growth spurt that threw off her swing, but this year all Lee knows is she’s afraid to go after the ball. Chalk it up to unpredictability.

“I’m not confident when I set up. I would back swing and then I wouldn’t accelerate through, I would just kind of hesitate and hit it and it would just go like this,” she said, making arcing gestures with her hands.

Lee’s marathon stretch of tournaments began with the U.S. Girls’ Junior on July 16, where she said her game began to go south in the second round of match play. She fell in the third round, then immediately went to the AJGA’s Wyndham Cup. After she was unable to win any points for the West team, Lee debated pulling out of the Junior PGA Championship last week. Hearing Tom Watson speak at the player dinner changed her mind, but she withdrew before the end of the championship.

And so Lee will return home to California by week’s end, after a bit of sightseeing in the beautiful Northeast. She admits she just needs a break, and hopes all will be right again by the time she joins her 11 American teammates for the Junior Solheim Cup at Knightsbrook Golf Resort in Trim, Ireland Sept. 20-21 – her next competitive start. It will be the only time she has played overseas aside from the 2010 Junior Ryder Cup.

Lee, who emerged from last summer’s slump to finish in the top 5 of all four AJGA invitationals in which she played this year, knows how this ebb-and-flow thing works. And after navigating the extreme lows of the game just as gracefully as the highs, she seems due for a bit of Irish luck when she does resume competition.

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