Alison Lee: “I’m still asked about Solheim putt controversy”January, 2016 Equipment
Mark Townsend speaks to the American Solheim Cup rookie
Six months ago not many of us would have been too familiar with the name, let alone any of her achievements. Now we all know Alison Lee but there is an awful lot more to learn, and admire, about the personable Californian.
Lee is, first and foremost, a staggering talent. She was the World No 1 amateur, played on the Curtis Cup just last year and is still a student at UCLA – she is now in the third of a four-year course and, as you read this, is sitting her latest set of exams.
While balancing her studies with a full schedule on the LPGA Tour – she only turned pro 12 months ago – Lee qualified on merit for the Solheim Cup team. And after what happened had happened on that Sunday morning she dusted herself down to beat Gwladys Nocera in the singles.
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I was four or five when I first went to the course with my dad. He was and is a golf fanatic. When I went to the range I was such a little princess who would run around the green with the club in the air rather than hitting a ball.
In the end he bribed me to get me to practise, he said if I focused and concentrated then we could go to Disneyland next weekend.
So that’s how I started – what little girl isn’t going to listen?
Five years ago we had a chat and he said I was so gullible as we were always going to go to Disneyland anyway.
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At six I went to a small academy where they had group lessons for kids. But the age limit was seven so my mum had to lie about my age.
I remember they were very strict about the rules of golf before playing and we took tests and would have to write out and present a couple of things. I was so young I couldn’t write out the big words, I can still remember our teacher not being able to understand what I had written!
My first tournament was when I was seven and that really got me interested.
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At 14 I played in the US Open which was so cool, even the qualifying. My dad was on the bag. I shot the lowest round in the first 18, then had 80-something and played terribly in the afternoon.
There were 10 spots available and one alternate and, as the day went by, some girls slowly overtook me and I tied for 10th so there was a play-off. The other girl was a senior at college and she reached the par 5 and I couldn’t reach but I made a long birdie putt. Then I birdied and she parred so I made it. I had a junior tournament a couple of days later in southern California so we had to race to the airport and missed our flight by 10 minutes.
We found a hotel, had a Denny’s at 1am as I hadn’t eaten all day, I can still remember all of it.
Then at Saucon Valley I couldn’t hit balls on the range as I was so busy looking at everyone. I managed to make the cut and finished top 30.
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The Women’s British Open at Turnberry was my first time playing links golf, I had played in Europe before in Junior Solheim and Ryder Cups but nothing like that with the wind and rain. We barely get a sprinkle of rain in southern California.
Turnberry was amazing – you have to play it strategically and take your time. You can’t hit normal shots. I would love to go back and redeem myself as I played so bad.
Suzann was only saying what she believed in and people are punishing her" The Solheim Cup was on my mind at the start of the year but, being a rookie on Tour, I didn’t know how my game would compare at the start of the year. It was on my list – I had high expectations – but to make it without needing a pick I was super happy.
I finished fifth in the last qualifying event to secure my place, I think I play better under pressure and I embraced the challenge and had fun with it.
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It was hard being the only rookie as it was almost the exact same team as last time and I was the only new face, all the girls were friends already. I wasn’t comfortable and felt out of place. I never knew what to say as I wanted to say the right thing and get approval from the girls but they were all so welcoming and helped a lot.
I was sick early in the week so missed the gala dinner on the Tuesday night and some practice but I had a good caddie who knew a lot of the team and the girls really helped me out.
It still doesn’t feel real that I played in the Solheim Cup. The year before I was playing in the Curtis Cup. I don’t think they got to know me 100 per cent. I had more friends on the Junior Solheim team and they came to where we would eat or hang out and I knew pretty much all the team. One of the team made a comment about how different I was when I was around them.
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Juli Inkster put us in pods which were based on personality tests and I was in with Michelle Wie, Brittany Lincicome and Angela Stanford so I played with them and we hung out the most. Plus Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller were very friendly.
I really look up to Michelle and she also did the school/tour thing so I had a lot to ask her.
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I still get questions literally every day about the putt controversy. It does get tiring as it’s been a while and I have to explain the same story again and again. But I guess that it’s going to be like that for a while.
It is different when you watch something on TV. I feel like it was a bit of everyone and everyone expressed all their anger towards just Suzann and that disturbed me and made me feel uncomfortable. I don’t like blaming people or holding grudges and I don’t like conflict.
I thought I heard something but obviously I didn’t. It’s not like Suzann lied, she did not say ’that’s good’. She stood her ground and was only saying what she believed in and people are punishing her for that.
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Even our rules official had a part to play and could have given me a different option. At the time it felt like we talked forever but I guess it happened really quickly.
I didn’t have any other options, I said I thought they had said ’that’s good’ and Suzann said they hadn’t and the rules official said there was a penalty and that we had lost the hole. I wanted to fight it but he looked at me and said ’I’m sorry’ and the rule was we couldn’t get a second opinion.
I didn’t know about the ruling that I could retake the putt if there was a misunderstanding. We only found out about that until the day was over.
It had never happened to me before, I have never picked up a ball early.
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There wasn’t a lot of chat playing the 18th. Brittany tried to say a couple of things like ’let’s make a birdie’ but I was so upset that I didn’t know what to say. I was bottling my emotions and didn’t want to talk about it, it only came out when we had lost the match.
Someone told me that they wanted to give us the half but I’ve never really thought about how I would feel if that had happened, I honestly can’t even imagine how I would have felt. It would have been a very nice gesture but I’ve no idea how that would have affected me in the afternoon.
I was obviously sad. I got back to the locker room and just sat on a couch in the corner on my own for a little bit. I couldn’t believe that it had happened to me, that was the last thing that I thought would happen. I ate some chocolate and Juli talked to me for a bit.
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To come back and win was the coolest thing ever. The fact that it came down to the last match made it so intense and the emotions were so raw. The other players said this was the most special win.
I haven’t watched it since but I have seen clips here and there. When I got home I went straight to school so there wasn’t even time to go home and unpack.
Some friends who don’t play golf were talking about it at UCLA but not everyone, how many 21-year-olds watch golf avidly?
I would say ’it’s a long story’ but they all want to hear. So I begin ’well…in golf there is strokeplay and then there is matchplay…’