Minjee Lee 2012 U.S. Junior Girls Champion (Steve Gibbons/USGA)
DALY CITY, Calif. (July 21, 2012) -– In a dramatic comeback, Australia’s Minjee Lee, 16, won four of the final six holes for a 1-up victory over Alison Lee, 17, of Valencia, Calif., in Saturday’s 36-hole final of the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, conducted at the 6,291-yard, par-72 Lake Merced Golf Club.
“I'm so relieved that it's over,” said Minjee Lee, currently ranked No. 8 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. “I was so tense coming into the last couple of holes.”
Minjee Lee became the eighth USGA champion to hail from Australia, and the first since Geoff Ogilvy won the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club. She is only the third Aussie female to capture a USGA championship, joining Jan Stephenson (1983 Women’s Open) and Hall of Famer Karrie Webb (2000-01 Women’s Open).
Both players played steady golf for the morning 18, and entered the afternoon round with Minjee Lee holding a 1-up lead over Alison Lee (the players are not related).
But after the break, it seemed like the match was Alison Lee’s for the taking.A bogey from Minjee Lee at the par-4 23rd hole squared the match. Three holes later, Alison Lee regained the lead with a clutch 10-foot birdie putt at the par-3, her first lead since the third hole of the match. She extended the advantage to 2 up with a birdie at the par-5 27th, having nearly converted a 15-foot eagle putt.
“Alison came back after 18 holes, and she played much better in the afternoon,” said Minjee Lee, a native of Perth who was playing only her second major event since sustaining a broken ankle in January. “She gave me a run for my money.”
Minjee Lee missed a golden opportunity to cut into her deficit when her 8-foot birdie putt at the par-4 28th burned the left edge of the hole. Alison Lee then pushed her lead to 3 up when Minjee Lee’s 7-foot par putt at No. 30 missed to the left.
“I thought I was going to lose, honestly,” said Minjee Lee, winner of three amateur events in 2011. “I was like, how do I get back up from here?”
However, what looked like a victory romp quickly turned into a dogfight when Alison Lee found bunkers at Nos. 31-33 and dropped all three holes, bringing the match back to all square with three to play.
“When I was 3 up on 12, I was already thinking ahead, oh, I'm going to win,” said Alison Lee, a 2013 UCLA commit competing in her sixth and final Girls’ Junior. “That's not how you're supposed to think. The match isn't over until you walk off the 18th green.”
Lee’s downfall started with a poor 50-degree wedge approach shot at the 31st hole. Her ball found a greenside bunker and she failed to get up and down for par, missing a 6-footer.
Minjee Lee won the par-5 32nd with a birdie. At No. 33, Alison Lee failed to get up and down for par from a greenside bunker.
Minjee Lee regained the lead for good with Alison Lee’s three-putt bogey from 8 feet at the 34th hole.
“I guess I wanted it too much and I hit it way too hard,” said Alison Lee. “And the putt coming back, I just, I had this little thought in my head, what if I miss it? I actually thought that before I putted, and I did miss it.”
After Minjee Lee’s masterful chip from an awkward lie just above a greenside bunker at No. 35, Alison Lee left her 12-foot birdie attempt just millimeters short of the hole.
Alison Lee had one final birdie chance at the 36 th hole, but played too much break on her 15-footer. Minjee Lee then claimed the victory following a beautiful chip from short of the green to within 4 feet of the final hole.
“I just pulled myself together and I was like, just go for it,” said Minjee Lee, a semifinalist at this year’s Australian Amateur. “You've got an opening. Just take your chances and then go from there.”
Alison Lee, one of three amateurs to make the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open two weeks ago, was understandably devastated following the match, saying that her hands would not stop shaking toward the end.
“I guess there are just days like where your putts don't drop in,” said Lee. “There's nothing you can do but try and wake up the next day and be better. But today, I guess I couldn't do that.”
With her victory, Minjee Lee received an exemption into all remaining Girls’ Juniors before her 18th birthday, as well as a two-year exemption into the U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links (if otherwise eligible). She was already exempt into the 2012 Women’s Amateur by virtue of her top-25 placement in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.