Patience is one of the words golfers utter knowing full well they don’t mean it. Butch Harmon called it “the most overrated virtue.” Tiger Woods could be one of the most impatient athletes in the history of sports, evidenced by the number of times he’s overhauled his swing. But like everyone else at the highest levels of the game, Tiger has said, “I tried to stay patient out there,” more times than people can count. It has become a ubiquitous tick among the game’s elite, the sort of conversational connective tissue players use to get them from one thought to the next, like, “I had fun out there,” or “one shot at a time.” It’s verbal throat-clearing. But it’s also, for some at least, soothing self-talk, a positive reminder meant more for themselves than the listener.
That’s not the case for one player in the field at Q-Series, which starts Wednesday at the historic Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. For Stanford senior Andrea Lee, patience isn’t a talking point, it’s how she has lived every moment of her life.
Lee, who is the recipient of the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the top-ranked amateur in the world and the odds-on favorite to win the Annika Award as the best collegiate player in the country, could have turned pro after her freshman year in Palo Alto. She already had multiple collegiate wins and had been a dominant force in junior golf prior to that. As golf went, she had the game to advance, at least to final stage of what was then LPGA Q School. That would have earned her at the very least some Symetra Tour status.
“It was certainly tempting after my first and second years of college to go out there and try to qualify (for the Tour),” Lee said. “But competing at Stanford allowed me to mature and grow, not just as a player but as a person. I’ve learned about a lot of things. Now, I’m looking forward to the next step, hopefully on the LPGA Tour next year.”
It has been that way for Lee from the beginning. According to her college coach, Anne Walker, “Andrea came in (to Stanford) as a young girl but an old golfer. It blew me away the high-level conversations I would have with her about golf. The other stuff she was a regular freshman, a regular kid doing goofy stuff. But when it came to golf, you were talking to a seasoned veteran player. That’s unusual.”
Hitting fairways and making 10-footers is a fraction of the skillset needed for a successful life and career on the LPGA Tour. The travel, the pressures of being an employer and independent contractor, the commitments and requests for your time outside the ropes, all require maturity, savvy, organization and fortitude. Those skills develop over time, often at a different pace than a players’ golf game.
“I’ve played a couple of (U.S. Women’s) Opens and ANA Inspirations and I definitely learned from those experiences,” Lee said. “It’s intimidating at first but I also learned that you have to stick with your own game plan. You’re out there with the best players in the world. But I want to get there, too. I feel as though I can compete with them.”
“Andrea has such a good support network around her,” Walker said. “Her family is level-headed and have helped her stay paced. Her parents, at every step, have said, ‘Hey, let’s stay focused on junior golf in Southern California first and then we’ll take the next step.’ Once she dominated there, they said, ‘Let’s stay focused on the AJGA, win here and then take the next step to some (top-level) amateur events.’ It’s the same approach Earl Woods took with Tiger. Granted Tiger was on a faster track. But Earl made him earn it at every level. That’s crucial. The confidence you gain at every level, learning that you not only can win but, at times, dominate…that can’t be overstated.”
Lee brought that same approach to Stanford where, this fall, she set a school record, winning her ninth career individual title at the Molly Intercollegiate in Portland, Ore. She also competed on two Curtis Cup teams and qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open twice.
“She is always learning,” Walker said. “She isn’t afraid to learn. Really good players are never afraid to explore change. Andrea has never been afraid to try something new. That’s what strikes me as unique about her. Sure, she has always owned her game. But when I approached her about something new, she was never defensive. She was always interested in exploring what you were saying. Always very logical and high level. Her mindset is always, ‘If I want to be the best, I have to always be turning the dial to the next level.’ I’ve said to her, those are the players who have long careers.”
Lee now looks back with pride on her decision to stay at Stanford, where she will earn her degree in Science, Technology and Society with an emphasis in communications.
“The Stanford experience has been priceless, not just from a golf standpoint but allowing me to grow and mature socially as well,” she said. “To meet all the different people, being around so many intellectuals, it’s been the experience of a lifetime.
“I would definitely encourage all junior golfers to go to college and get their degrees,” Lee said. “I think I would have regretted coming out in the long run. So, I’m really glad I stayed.”
“There are a lot of great players out there (on the LPGA Tour) but I feel confident that Andrea will win,” Walker said. “I’m not sure you say that about a lot of players. You say that they could have a career but I feel confident that Andrea will win.”