ANNIKA Award Watch List: April 4, 2014
Note: This is a list based on our opinions, watching these stellar players week in and week out. More than the rankings go into how we make the list. But, ultimately, this is a award voted on by players, coaches and select media, so this isn't necessarily how things will shake out later this year. If you'd like to register to be a voter, please click here.
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As the spring season progresses, Golfweek is monitoring the race for the inaugural Annika Award, presented by 3M. An award update will be posted each Friday on Golfweek.com.
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For the short term at least, Alison Lee’s calendar is all filled up. But when you’re the No. 1 college player in the country – and No. 3 amateur in the world – a full dance card is to be expected.
It’s the week after spring break at UCLA, and the freshman is making her second start in the LPGA Kraft Nabisco Championship. Two years ago, she played her way in as a junior golfer but missed the cut. This year, she drew a first- and second-round pairing beside two-time major champion Jiyai Shin.
Lee, from nearby Valencia, Calif., is a draw in Southern California. In addition to playing the Kraft for the second time, she’s also played the U.S. Women’s Open three times. Her first was at the age of 14 in 2009. She’s experienced.
From here, Lee goes on to next weekend’s Curtis Cup practice session, then to the Pac-12 championship and NCAA regionals with UCLA. After that, Lee plays a U.S. Women’s Open qualifier.
As the No. 2-ranked team in the country, UCLA is very likely to compete in the NCAA Championship. Lee then trades blue and gold for red and blue on Curtis Cup week. She hopes the U.S. Women’s Open will follow, but definitely has the Women’s Western Amateur slated after that.
And that only takes her through June.
This, you might say, is the easy stuff. More notable for Lee was her very smooth transition to college – both in golf and academics.
“I’m having a lot of fun right now but I have to say my first quarter was really stressful, just kind of managing my time,” Lee remembers. There were days when morning practice would lead to morning workouts, which led straight to class and it would be 3 p.m. before Lee remembered to sit down and actually get something to eat.
“I think I adjusted to it pretty well,” Lee said. “...It’s crazy how fast it went by.”
Lee won two of her first four starts in the fall on her way to landing the top spot in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings by the halfway point of the season. She and USC’s Annie Park, last year’s college player of the year, have duked it out for that spot all spring. Lee currently is ahead.
Lee entered the Kraft, on the relatively familiar Mission Hills Country Club Dinah Shore course, after three days of class back at UCLA. She spent the latter part of her break reacquainting herself with the course. Before that, she spent a week on the road with her Bruins, first competing in the San Diego State Farms Invitational (UCLA tied for second, Lee was fourth) and then cheering on former Bruins now on the LPGA.
Lee very easily could have landed her third college victory at San Diego State. She was leading after a first-round 68, but dropped to fourth with a pair of 73s.
“I think I played OK but my short approach shots, I was struggling with a lot of my shots inside 100 yards,” Lee said. “Normally that’s my strong part and I can hit it close.”
To see Lee at the top of a leaderboard is no longer a surprise. She’s finished outside the top 4 only twice so far this year – a T-18 at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge a T-8 and the Pac-12 Preview. Those fields rank No. 1 and No. 8, respectively, in field strength so far this season.
Lee has seemingly been around so long – as a junior who was wise and composed beyond her years – that there have already been several chapters to her game. Right now, it’s about momentum. A trip to the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur, a spot on the winning U.S. Junior Solheim Cup team and AJGA Rolex Player of the Year honors were all helpful in putting Lee in a good mindset as she left a small pond for a much bigger one.
“It felt really good to transition and win a couple tournaments off the bat,” Lee said. “I need to keep working toward it.”
There will be plenty of opportunities.
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Other notable players and performances:
Annie Park, USC
Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 3
In a few words: Teeing it up this week at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. The long, difficult layout at Mission Hills’ Dinah Shore Course should suit Park very well.
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Yu Liu, Duke
Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 2
In a few words: Has helped lead Duke to two consecutive tournament titles. Liu and the Blue Devils will see some different competition this weekend at the Ping/Arizona State Invitational.
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Mariah Stackhouse, Stanford
Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 5
In a few words: Passed on a spot in the Kraft to play the Ping/Arizona State Invitational this weekend. It will be a deep field, and a good chance for Stackhouse to show her stuff.
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Celine Boutier, Duke
Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 10
In a few words: Earned her first collegiate victory March 30 at the Bryan National Collegiate. It seems as if the Frenchwoman has found her groove entering postseason. Good timing.