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Los Alamitos' Lee is girls golfer of the year
She was playing in one of the most prestigious tournaments on the high school golf schedule in Murrieta when Esther Lee suddenly remembered the bitter disappointment she felt at The Golf Club at Rancho California one year before, during her freshman season.
Her score wasn't good enough to qualify for the CIF State Championship.
History, she feared, was on the verge of repeating itself. And despite having two more years of high school golf in front of her at Los Alamitos, she was concerned that she would never make it to the state tournament.
It turned out all that worrying was for nothing.
She reached her goal that sophomore season, beginning a streak not often seen in girls or boys high school golf. Just a few weeks ago, the Duke-bound senior played in her third consecutive CIF State Tournament, finishing second after shooting a 1-over-par 75 at Red Hill Country Club, which put her one shot off the lead on the Rancho Cucamonga course.
It was the fourth time in as many postseason tournaments this fall that The Orange County Register Player of the Year finished in the top 10, but she again ended up just one shot away from reaching her goal.
When she qualified for state the first time, she shot a 75 at Red Hill CC and finished second, one shot out of the lead. But this time there's no next year for Lee.
Lee qualified for each state tournament as an individual, which might be one of the most difficult things to do in high school sports. Up until the 2011 season, only six girls representing schools from Fresno to the Mexican border made it to state as an individual through the regional qualifier. Now it's nine.
"There is a small bit of disappointment (never having won the state championship). But looking back on the four years of high school golf I played, I have a lot of great memories," Lee said. "Even I if didn't win state, I still have those memories, and I wouldn't trade that for anything. I have played really well, though, the last four years and I couldn't be happier with that."
Take her senior year. She posted a 2-under-par 70 at The Golf Club at Rancho California during the WSCGA So Cal Regionals, finished second in the CIF-SS Individual Championships in Chino Hills at Western Hills Country Club with a 1-under-par 71 and posted an even-par 74 at the CIF-SS Southern Individual Regional in Long Beach at Recreation Park Golf Course.
Her cumulative postseason score through the state tournament was a 2-under-par 290, giving her a stroke average of 72.5.
Los Alamitos coach John Haygood often joked that he'd like to disband the girls team at the school, so Lee could tee off with the boys team and turn it into a CIF-championship contender.
Lee is ranked No. 5 in the Golfweek junior girls Sagarin national rankings after winning co-medalist honors at the Polo Junior Golf Classic with an even-par 144 at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach, Fla.
Since April, Lee has played in six AJGA Tournaments, and she finished in the top 10 in all of them.
Lee said playing for the Griffins made her a better player in the bigger tournaments she enters around the country because during high school matches she's able to work on the 60- to 90-yard wedge shots that she has relied on for low scores in the AJGA.
Her short game also helped the United States beat Europe in the Junior Ryder Cup as she won all of her matches in the international event played in Olympia Fields, Ill.
But the one thing that Lee is most proud of this season has nothing to do with her.
She enjoyed watching her teammates at Los Alamitos work hard in practice and shave six strokes off their average.
"That made me feel really happy that the girls on the team were working towards becoming better instead of taking golf just to get out of PE," she said. "It wasn't me that I was really proud of this year. It was my team."