U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Good Breaks Continue for Women’s Amateur Alternate Lee
August 9, 2018 | Kingston Springs, Tenn.
By Bill Fields
Jaclyn Lee wasn’t in ideal position for her approach shot on the 20th hole of her Round-of-16 match against Elizabeth Wang late Thursday afternoon at The Golf Club of Tennessee. Her tee shot was in the fairway, but far enough left to be impeded by a stand of trees; Wang was 30 yards ahead with a good angle to the flagstick on the 408-yard par 4 after having stiffed a 6-iron on the 18th hole to set up a match-extending birdie.
When Lee’s 5-iron from 168 yards knocked some leaves off one of the trees she was attempting to navigate around, the sound – and the sight of a small branch falling to the ground – made it appear the 21-year-old Canadian would have to scramble to stay alive in the 118th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.
Lee’s ball continued on its flight, though, finishing 15 feet behind the hole. “I had to stay below the limbs and hook it around the trees,” Lee said. “I was trying to make the most out of it. I’m glad that it really didn’t affect the line too much.”
A few minutes later, Lee made the most of her luck, sinking the downhill birdie putt, forcing Wang to convert her 10-footer to continue the match. The 18-year-old headed to Harvard University this fall missed, allowing Lee, a senior at Ohio State University, to advance to Friday’s Quarterfinals against University of Arkansas senior Kaylee Benton.
That Lee capitalized on the good break was no surprise. After all, she was the last player to get into the 156-player field after earning first-alternate status in a July 18 sectional qualifier in Scottsdale, Ariz., where she shot 71 to trail four players by two strokes, including Benton.
“I was really happy to get in,” said Lee, who got an early-morning call on July 31 from the USGA at home in Calgary, Alberta, as she was preparing to leave for a hike in the mountains. “I do feel like I belong in this event. It’s tough to qualify for this, and I’m very grateful I got in last minute.”
The spot became available when the European Ladies Amateur champion denied the exemption the USGA was holding. The USGA then went to its allotment list, and Lee’s site was next.
Before dispatching Wang in their taut match, Lee showed off her skills earlier on Thursday by making eight birdies in a 10-hole stretch en route to a 5-and-4 victory over UCLA All-American Patty Tavatanakit, the low amateur in this year’s U.S. Women’s Open (T-5).
“I’m really excited for her,” said Therese Hession, her coach at Ohio State and caddie this week. “She dodged a few bullets today. Elizabeth has a fantastic future and threw so many good shots at her. Patty is an amazing player. But Jaclyn kept plugging along and kept taking full responsibility for what was in front of her and kept her composure.”
One of those in Lee’s gallery Thursday was Tristan Mullally, the national team coach for Golf Canada. Lee was on the Canadian national development squad in 2014-15 and has been on the Canadian national amateur squad the last two years. Mullally has seen Lee’s progression in the game along with her steep climb in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™. In August 2015, she was No. 554. Two years ago, she was 282nd and she was 145th a year ago. Lee is currently No. 26.
“She’s always been a really good ball-striker and someone who has worked really, really hard and been smart in how she’s identified what needs to be a little bit better without changing the whole recipe,” Mullally said. “She has a lot of support at home, a lot of support at school. Everybody’s working in the same direction. She’s not someone who at 15 or 16 was lighting it up, but every year she has gotten better and continues to. I’m not surprised she is playing so well.”
Hession isn’t surprised either, having watched Lee set an Ohio State single-season scoring record (71.1) and win three tournaments in 2017-18. “She’s done whatever it takes to get better,” Hession said. “She’s a finance major with a 3.98 GPA. She’s the total package, a coach’s dream.”
Lee’s success has created a couple of happy problems for Hession. She has had to keep extending the number of days a dogsitter tends to her west highland terriers, Ben Hogan and Ginger, back in Ohio. And she has a flight scheduled Sunday for an overseas recruiting trip.
For now, the Quarterfinals await.
“We work really well together,” Lee said of Hession. “She really knows me and what I need to do to play my best golf.”
Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.