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A shooting star

Valencia High’s Alison Lee is the most accomplished incoming freshman golfer in league history

Posted: September 21, 2009 10:53 p.m.
Updated: September 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Alison Lee, who won her first American Junior Golf Association event as a 12-year-old, is making her Foothill League debut today in Encino. Lee, now 14 years old and a high school freshman, steps in as Valencia High's No. 1 golfer.

 
She does not have to be here. Nine holes of golf — what could that really do for her?

Especially considering that she’s golfed some of the United States’ best courses and played against the world’s No. 1 golfer Lorena Ochoa.

But Alison Lee is here — playing golf in the Foothill League.

Lee is the most highly touted incoming freshman golfer in Santa Clarita Valley history.

She is the seventh-ranked junior golfer in the United States according to the American Junior Golf Association’s Polo Rankings.

Lee, just 14 years old, finished tied for 26th at the U.S. Women’s Open — the second-highest finish by an amateur in the tournament.

Yet she has chosen to golf for Valencia High’s varsity team, despite a couple of potential scheduling conflicts with junior tournaments and the different style of play.

“I can get closer to more people,” she says of why she joined the team. “I’m representing my high school. In matches, we play nine holes and it’s short for me. But I could at least get practice out of it. I can meet new people and see old friends I haven’t seen in a while.”

Foothill League girls golf plays mostly weekly matches and nine holes, compared to the 18 Lee usually plays in junior tournaments.

In the CIF playoffs, girls play 18 holes.

The competition level in junior tournaments is much higher because the country’s best players compete against each other in the events.

Valencia head coach Andy Raevouri acknowledges the differences and realizes that Lee could be a shooting star — in the Foothill League in 2009 and out of it afterward.

“It’s crossed my mind of course,” Raevouri says. “The level of competition here, she might need a higher level than what she’s got here.”

But the 11th-year head coach says there is something that playing high school golf will give her that she won’t get on the junior circuit — a different kind of fun.

“It’s like I told her, golf should be about having fun. Once you stop having fun, you shouldn’t play anymore,” Raevouri says. “You have to enjoy your teammates. If you play for any other reason beyond having fun, that’s OK, but if you lose that aspect of fun, you’ve lost your edge.”

Lee says it’s the one difference that she has encountered.

She is the only freshman on the Valencia team, but there have been bonding moments with her fellow teenagers, such as a trip to a match where all the girls turned the volume up high on the team van to listen to some music.

Her parents let her choose whether she wanted to play for the Vikings or not.

Lee’s mother Sung says there were those who told her not to.

“Her friends from the golf tournament, they told her not to play,” Sung says. “They told her it would be waste of time, but I wanted her to play just to experience it. ... I want her to have a good time and make more friends. I don’t want her to miss out on anything.”

Just across town, there is another young star golfer who is highly ranked nationally.

West Ranch junior Daniel Lee, no relation, is No. 16 in the nation, according to the Polo Rankings.

In his first two years at West Ranch, he didn’t come out for the high school team, instead deciding to concentrate on the junior circuit.

But there is an impact made by golfers like Alison Lee who decide to play for their high school.

Saugus High head coach David Stradling says it’s a huge positive because it brings limelight to the entire league and will give girls an opportunity to showcase their talent to a wider audience, which in turn could help get them into colleges.

Not to mention it’s a huge boon for Valencia’s golf program, which figures to compete for a team playoff spot this season.

Lee says she is driven by pressure and competition.

Though winning AJGA tournaments is more motivation, Lee says there are things she’d like to accomplish while playing in the Foothill League.

Hart’s Amanda Corr established the Foothill League course record at Vista Valencia last season with a 9-hole score of 29.

A smile cracked Lee’s face when she was told of the record.

“I’ve never beaten a course record,” she says. “That was probably really exciting for her.”

A CIF individual state championship is something she’d also like to win, but Lee has to qualify to get in the postseason.

In order to do that, she can only miss one Foothill League match and only the top six golfers from the league get in.

Raevouri says he has left it up to her as to how many matches she wants to compete in, knowing that she has to balance her high school and junior schedule with her academics.

The state championship is Nov. 19.

Lee is scheduled to play in the Polo Golf Junior Classic in Florida, which begins Nov. 21.

As for her future on the team, she says after the season she’ll weigh the positives versus the negatives. Did it help her game?

“So far there are more positives than negatives,” she says.

She also says she’s taking things one day at a time.

At the U.S. Open, there were large galleries following her every move.

She recalls stepping onto the Saucon Valley Country Club course in Bethlehem, Pa., in July and her name being announced.

“I tried to hide my smile,” she says, remembering the excitement.

It will obviously be different for her in the Foothill League.

No galleries, no announcements, no professionals.

She realizes this.

And she realizes there’s something that wasn’t in Bethlehem or every stop on the AJGA — the high school experience.

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