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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ON THE GREEN: Golf
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Double Date

Golf: Anne Lee is one of the few to qualify for U.S. Women's Amateur and U.S. Girls' Junior Championship in same year.

July 31, 1998|PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Anne Lee is a 17-year-old golfer who, in the next two weeks, will be growing up fast.

Lee, a senior at Notre Dame High, has qualified for a difficult double: the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship, Tuesday through Aug. 9 at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., and the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship, Aug. 11-16 at Barton Hills Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

She's played in the junior championship twice before, qualifying for match play in 1996. But the U.S. Women's Amateur will mark Lee's first major tournament against the elite amateurs in the nation.

Fewer than a handful of players each year qualify for both tournaments.

"I think I'll be ready," she said. "If I really put my mind to it and focus I'll be OK."

If her recent play is any indication, she will be just fine.

Lee has played in seven tournaments this summer--all against tough competition--and has five top-10 finishes.

Her fourth-place finish in the American Junior Golf Assn. Mission Hills tournament is Lee's best finish, but the highlight of her summer came July 10 at Coto de Caza Golf and Racquet Club during the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions.

Lee, after rounds of 78-77-75, was in 15th place in what is considered one of the best junior tournaments in the nation.

Needing a good round to break into the top 10 and earn precious ranking points, Lee fired a final-round 66--a women's course record and career low--to finish seventh.

"I was six shots away from the top 10," Lee said. "My mom said, 'I guess you'll just have to shoot six under par,' and I did."

Watching their daughter mature has been difficult for Lee's parents, Won and Sunnie Lee, who are trying to make up for lost time with the eldest of their two daughters.

After Anne was born in 1981, the couple made a difficult decision to leave their native Seoul, Korea, and attend graduate school at the University of Arizona.

Anne stayed behind and lived with Won's parents for five years.

"It was hard," Won Lee said. "We didn't see her at all. Now she's becoming independent."

Anne rejoined her parents after they completed their master's degrees in 1986. They remained in Tucson for a year and moved to Glendale for a year before finally settling in Northridge 10 years ago. Anne's 9-year-old sister, Diana, was born a year after the move to Northridge.

When Anne was 11, Won, whose family owns the Olympic Country Club in Seoul, introduced her to golf.

"As she was growing up, we thought children should communicate with parents," Won said. "We thought we could communicate through golf. Also golf could help her in life, even in business."

Anne remembers it differently.

"They didn't like the idea of me being home alone," she said. "I didn't like [golf] at first. All my friends were doing other stuff and I thought, 'Why should I have to play golf with my parents?' "

As Anne improved--she won her first tournament at age 13 and was nationally ranked for the first time last year--her parents tried desperately not to push her too hard.

"Most parents, especially Korean, try to take care of everything," Won said. "I try to let her make her own decisions, not insist on my own thinking."

While undecided on where she wants to go to college, Lee said she has narrowed her list to a select few, a list she does not want to reveal.

"I know where I want to go," she said. "It's just a matter if they will offer me a full scholarship."

Her recent play has helped her national ranking jump from 36th to a career-best 28th, making her the highest-ranked player in the Valley/Ventura County region.

Lee thinks she can play even better.

After a shooting 76-78-76--230 and finishing 26th at the AJGA Betsy Rawls Championship on July 21-23, Lee said she plans on unveiling a new attitude.

"It was a disappointing finish," Lee said. "My dad said that I should set my goals a little higher so now I'm going with the attitude that I'm going to win every time out. I'm playing with more confidence and you know how confidence goes a long way."

She hopes that confidence will take her to a USGA title over the next two weeks, to a college scholarship over the next few months, and to a LPGA Tour career in the next few years.

But Lee is not ready to abandon her junior career just yet.

"At junior tournaments they really spoil you," she said.

"You get shirts and balls and they really push for 4 1/2-hour rounds. In college everyone tells me there are six-hour rounds. They all say to enjoy it while you are a junior."

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