Paige Lee’s golf game began drawing attention shortly after the now-UC Davis freshman turned 12.
A handful of American Junior Golf Association titles were augmented by an unprecedented four Sac-Joaquin Section championships while playing for Granite Bay High.
Along the way, Lee captured Northern California Golf Association crowns — including last year’s NCGA Women’s Amateur.
In 2012, she was a Rolex Junior All-American honorable mention.
The honors kept coming in during this, her first year swinging a club for the Aggies …
In just her third collegiate tournament, Lee finished fourth among 90 contestants in the Golfweek Conference Challenge.
Lee had five top-10 finishes while helping UCD win its fifth consecutive Big West Conference crown, earn a 37th national ranking and get a berth in the NCAA Regionals (at which the Aggies finished 12th out of 23 teams).
She recorded a 74.9 stroke average this season and — along with teammates Beverly Vatananugulkit and Betty Chen — earned All-Big West first-team honors.
With the end of the school year at hand, one might think Lee gets to come up for a little air, right?
Last Monday, Lee carded a two-round 150 at Half Moon Bay Golf Links to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open.
“Qualifying … is no easy feat,” explains second-year Aggie women’s coach Anna Temple. “Paige has been working hard and has really improved over several categories (this) past season. She is starting to see that pay off now.”
Here’s a young woman who’s had great success in junior golf, yet has reworked her approach since enlisting swing coach Noah Montgomery two years ago.
“He’s really changed my perspective on the golf game,” says Lee, who adds that she “really started to feel the pressure” during her junior and senior years of high school.
Lee wanted more distance off the tee — but she also sought peace of mind. Apparently, the North Ridge Country Club-based Montgomery has provided both …
“I’ve been looking at things more positively, letting things go,” Lee told The Enterprise. “Everything happens for a reason. I think that’s tremendously helped my golf game.
“He’s helped me both mentally and physically with my swing. I think I was putting too much pressure on myself to perform — knowing how good I can play.
“But I was kinda getting in the way of myself.”
Playing with former UCD links star Chelsea Stelzmiller at Half Moon Bay, Lee flicked off the pressure of last Monday’s final hole.
Staring at a par-4, 389 yard 18th, Lee was in the mix with a half-dozen golfers for the third and final qualifying spot.
A birdie nudged her past Sara Banke and Yoonhee Kim and on to Pinehurst No. 2 for the June 19 Open. Stelzmiller finished two strokes behind Lee.
Stelzmiller and Alice Kim made Aggie history when both qualified for the 2009 U.S. Open.
(An aside to last week’s Half Moon Bay outing — Lucy Li became the youngest U.S. Open qualifier. The Redwood City elementary school student is 11-years-old. She shot an even-par 142 for a seven-stroke win over Kathleen Scavo of Benicia.)
Lee, the 19-year-old Folsom native, came by golf honestly. Both mom and dad (Pia and Bruce) play, and her grandparents live on the course at North Ridge (Fair Oaks).
“I’d watch my dad practicing in the back yard, so he bought me cute, little plastic toy (clubs) and I started hitting balls,” Lee remembers. “He liked what he saw. I was 3 or 4.”
After that, Paige Lee would get trips to the driving range with her parents and grandfather.
Hitting a few balls evolved into 12-year-old Paige “getting serious about the game. That’s when I started junior tournaments.”
Lee came to Davis as an economics major, but her work with Montgomery began a recent interest in psychology. As the two explored Lee’s mental approach, her commitment to the science of the mind increased. She’s now a psychology major.
“Her work ethic is incredible,” Temple points out. “When she goes after something, she’s all in.”
At Pinehurst, Lee will have a solid support group: Her parents will attend, as will Temple. Montgomery is her caddy.
While North Carolina’s elite course is foreign soil, Lee and her coaches are studying the layout online and through reports from Temple, who was a Cal assistant before coming to the Aggies.
Lee is leaving early to get two practice rounds in.
“With my coaching change, my driving has gotten a lot better,” says the now-long hitter. “That’s the biggest thing I wanted: gain more distance in my game. I was a shot golfer in high school.”
As for her game around the green and putting:
“Just a little fix-up here and there. Nothing huge.”
So, does this local golf standout have the game to contend?
Her 6-under at Torrey Pines in a junior golf tourney and last year’s 71 at Spyglass Hill (giving her a four-stroke lead on the NCGA field) suggests she could be competitive.
“Regardless, this will have been a great experience when she returns from Pinehurst,” Temple continues, adding that Lee’s accomplishments are also terrific exposure for an already lofty Aggie golf program.
“Her junior golf record speaks for itself,” Temple concludes.
Now it’s on to bigger (and better?) things.
Notes: Lee says she would have loved to have known 1930 Grand Slam-winning amateur golfer Bobby Jones. … Yes, professional golf after UCD is on Lee’s radar. … Lee’s new approach includes staving off pressure playing the piano or flute, and by singing in the car: “Express myself whether I’m happy, sad, anxious or excited. It’s a good outlet.” … Lee is an only child who credits Temple, Montgomery and her family for all their encouragement and support, and tells parents of would-be greens champions to be supportive but don’t push. “It’s up to the (children) whether they want to play golf competitively. I think for the parents, you just have to support whatever the kids want instead of push it upon them. Unfortunately, I see that a lot in junior golf.” … Lee’s favorite course? “There are so many, but I’d have to say Spyglass.”
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-320-4456.