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A cut above: Lee readies for Western Amateur

Local golfer is talented beyond his years

Posted: July 13, 2009 10:18 p.m.
Updated: July 14, 2009 4:55 a.m.

West Ranch's Daniel Lee will take part in the Western Amateur on Aug. 3 in Lake Forest, Ill.

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Daniel Lee is not an average 16-year-old.

He is even further from being an average golfer.

The term “average” is almost inappropriate when referencing Lee and his golf game.

The soon-to-be junior at West Ranch High School is talented beyond his years, ranking 11th in the American Junior Golf Association’s Polo rankings. Lee is set to participate in the prestigious Western Amateur Golf Tournament with 150 of the best junior players in the country starting on Aug. 3 at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill.

But there is more to Lee than his long game and his skills with a putter.

One walk around the Valencia Country Club, his home course, reveals that he is one of the most well-liked players in the facility, jovially joking with caddies and clubhouse employees.

“He loves it at the country club,” says Lee’s father Shawn. “He just likes to talk with everyone, no matter what their age is. He’s a happy, sociable kid who loves to golf.”

Daniel’s love of golf started when he was nine years old when he chose to pursue the sport. Soon after, his father also picked up some clubs.

“When I was a kid I knew I wanted to play a sport, but I wasn’t quite sure which one,” Daniel says. “When I saw my dad watching golf on television I decided that was the sport that I wanted to play. I got a coach, and I loved it. From there, I kept improving and now I am where I am.”

It is a level that few golfers in this area or even the country have reached. On May 25 he won the Thunderbird International Junior Tournament at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., and his average scores are between two and three strokes under par.

“He’s a rare combination of talent and dedication,” says Lee’s coach Bobby Laskin. “It’s really refreshing to get to work with a kid with the kind of ability and attitude he has. He works so hard on his game. In a lot of ways he is very Tiger Woods-esque.”

Lee’s level of dedication is also rarely matched. During the school year he practices eight hours a day after class, and in the summer he generally logs 10 hours on the driving range, practice green and working on his chipping.

“When I’m in school I pretty much get out of class, eat lunch and go to the course,” Lee says. “I’ve always felt like I could get better, and I know how much work I put in will help me to get to where I want to be.”

The hard work has paid off for Lee.

At the Thunderbird he carded an 18-under par in the 15-hole event, and he has hopes of making the Junior Ryder Cup team.

“I think my game has gotten better because I have worked on my patience,” Lee says. “In the beginning I was rough, and I would get frustrated when I hit a shot that I didn’t like, but now I’m able to bounce back and do what I want to.”

Lee has used his patience to put together some of the most impressive amateur rounds of the year, including setting 18-hole, 36-hole and tournament lows at his first AJGA victory.

The Valencia native had 40 straight holes without a bogey at the event.

“Both his mother and I have been so proud of all that Daniel has done,” Shawn says. “There are a lot of techniques to being a golfer, and he has been working on learning everything to work to become a pro golfer. We have a plan for what we want for the future and every day he is working toward making that plan a reality.”

Laskin sees Lees’s overall game as his greatest asset, citing his mental plan as much as his given gifts as assets to his game.

“His biggest strength is that he has no weaknesses,” Laskin says. “You don’t find a lot of kids with the kind of approach and just general plan that he has. He has worked on his swing so much that now it’s just a matter of fine-tuning.”

Part of the plan for Lee is going to college to advance his golf career, preferably in California so he can stay close to home.

Several colleges have already shown an interest in Lee, and he hopes to enroll at Stanford, the University of Southern California or the University of California, Los Angeles.

“My main goal is to go onto college, and then hopefully get through Q School,” Lee says. “I am focused on getting to the next level and then advancing from there. I know what I can do in the future, and I’m working toward that.”

kdamore@the-signal.com

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