As a young girl – every year from age 8 to 11 – Alison Lee was brought to the Kraft Nabisco Championship in the desert by her dad, John, an avid golfer who was thrilled about the aptitude his daughter was exhibiting for the game at a young age.
Her eyes were wide with wonder and respect. “Julie Inkster gave me a glove,” she said recently. “Grace Park gave me her golf ball. I always wanted to be a professional golfer. I tried to learn from what they did.”
Lee, a junior at Valencia High School, has been yearning to play on the LPGA Tour since those early years. She never dreamed such an opportunity would come her way – and in an LPGA major, no less – before she celebrated her 18th birthday.
Lee was thrilled to be invited to the fresh&easy-Kraft Foods Legacy Junior Challenge, hosted by SCGA Hall of Famer Amy Alcott, in which 18 Southern California junior girls played golf with some of the LPGA legends who paved the way for them. Lee produced the best score in the competition, which earned her a sponsor’s invitation into the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
“I was shocked that they came up with this,” she said. “There’s never been a tournament like this before. If you wanted to qualify, you had to go through a whole series of qualifiers with a whole bunch of people. I was really excited to play.”
Lee was equally excited – perhaps to the point of jitters – when the first round of the Kraft Nabisco arrived at Mission Hills Country Club. She was disappointed that she couldn’t play her best golf, and finished 11 strokes over par after two days of competition, having shot 79 and 76. But she was gracious throughout, saying afterward, “It was a really great opportunity and I really learned a lot – not only about what it means to be out here in a professional tournament but about myself and what I need to learn and grow as a golfer.”
The Legacy Junior Challenge was an unqualified hit. After Lee birdied two of the last three holes for a 4-under-par 68 and defeated 14-year-old Lilia Vu ofFountain Valley by two strokes, Alcott enthused, “Boy, was there some exciting golf played out here today?”
Each of the 18 junior entrants was paired with an LPGA star of yesteryear, which provided valuable mentoring opportunities. But the guidance didn’t stop there. A day after the event, Meg Mallon and Beth Daniel took Lee for a walk on the back nine of the tournament course to give her a few pointers.
Lee asked one of her fellow participants in the Junior Challenge, Esther Lee of Los Alamitos, to caddie for her in the Kraft Nabisco. It proved to be a good pairing. As Alison Lee struggled with her game, she said, Esther “tried to make me laugh and cheer me up.” Lee’s spirits might have also been lifted by another incident that occurred during the week, one that brought her golf career full circle. The day before the LPGA tournament began, as she walked off the chipping green, two girls approached her and asked for her autograph.