UCLA's Lee wins inaugural ANNIKA Award
Her freshman season finished, her last final completed, Alison Lee capped her first year at UCLA by packing up her dorm room and preparing for a quiet summer on the amateur golf circuit. It was mid-move that Lee got a call from Annika Sorenstam, and with arms full of boxes, had to let it go to voicemail.
And so it was by voicemail that Lee officially became the first recipient of the ANNIKA Award presented by 3M. Days later, Lee and Sorenstam finally connected, and Lee couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the year.
“I got really excited and really happy,” Lee said of the whole exchange. “Not only because I won the award, but because Annika Sorenstam called me.”
Lee won by a vote from fellow players, coaches and media members who deemed her the most outstanding player in women’s college golf. It’s the first year the award, sponsored by the Haskins Commission, has been given. The ANNIKA Award amounts to the female version of the long-running Haskins Award, which honors the best player in men’s college golf. The Haskins winner also is selected by a voting process, and past recipients include Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell.
The award will be presented to Lee at the inaugural ANNIKA Invitational, to be played in September at Reunion Resort in Orlando. The 12-team field features some of the top programs in women’s college golf, including UCLA.
Lee’s path to the prestigious honor included a nearly season-long perch atop the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Lee, a 19-year-old from Valencia, Calif., finished second in her first collegiate start then won her next two.
“After those two tournaments it kind of put me in a different place,” Lee said. “I set higher goals for myself and expected a lot of myself. I was playing really well.”
Lee had come off a summer in which she represented the U.S. in the Junior Solheim Cup and advanced to the semifinals at the U.S. Women’s Amateur before being named the AJGA Rolex Player of the Year late in the fall. Still, in terms of college golf, Lee will tell you she exceeded her own expectations.
Lee’s third and final victory of the season came at the Pac-12 Championship in April. In 11 starts with UCLA, she posted eight top-5s and was a combined 22 under. She had come up short of qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open just days before the NCAA Championship (it would have been her fourth start in the Women’s Open), and admits she let it get in her head. Lee finished an uncharacteristic T-38 that week, but bounced back to help lead the U.S. to victory two weeks later at the Curtis Cup.
“Overall, I feel like I accomplished more than what I hoped to accomplish,” Lee said of her first season at UCLA. “I just want to continue the streak and continue to play good golf and not fall back.”
It’s the essence of Lee’s game. The good-natured Californian is a player who is able to constantly move forward. A victory at the 2012 AJGA Annika Invitational, her first in an AJGA invitational (among the most prestigious events in junior golf) signaled a breakthrough for a still relatively unknown player. A few months before that victory, Lee’s game had ebbed hard during a busy summer schedule. Lee came out on the right side of that difficult stretch, and now moving forward means building on the growth she has experienced since becoming a Bruin.
“I learned a lot about my swing and game management and time management,” Lee said of a year spent on the Bruin roster.
UCLA head coach Carrie Forsyth has watched Lee mesh smoothly into the Bruin squad thanks to her kind and considerate nature. Forsyth’s teams have a reputation for having a close bond, and Lee fits that bill while also being a quiet motivator.
“She’s such a good teammate,” Forsyth said. “... She has a lot of leadership qualities that are subtle.”
What’s not so subtle is Lee’s love for non-golf things. Forsyth laughs when she remembers the day she told her team that the first round of the Allstate Sugar Bowl had been rained out. Lee, the No. 1-ranked player in the country, gave a tiny shout of joy for a day she knew could be spent shopping, even if it did mean a 36-hole day would likely follow.
“She is so competitive, but yet we call her the enigma,” Forsyth said. “... Sometimes she gets more excited about shopping. I just find her so interesting.”
Forsyth watched Lee patiently as a junior golfer. Both hail from Valencia, and Forsyth was often in Lee’s gallery as she closed her junior career with gusto – and energy. Lee played nearly everything there was to play.
“For our program, we’re just so excited to have Alison on our team,” Forsyth said. “... I was so happy she chose UCLA.”
As for Lee, it will be an uncharacteristically quiet summer full of more school (she’s taking three classes) and less golf (she’s planning only the North & South Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur). It will be a welcomed and well-deserved respite.
“My freshman year as been so fun and I feel like I accomplished so much,” Lee said. “To have the Annika on my resume is huge.”