By Cybele Zhang
November has been a month of change for Stanford women’s golf. The team’s top two players both announced their intent to turn professional and join the Ladies Professional Golf Association’s (LPGA) Tour after top-30 LPGA Q-Series finishes.
Stanford’s latest player to depart: No. 1 amateur in the world, senior Andrea Lee.
The Hermosa Beach native, who began golfing at five years old, announced in a statement on Nov. 19 that she would forego the remainder of her senior season to immediately begin her professional career. Her decision comes less than a week after senior teammate Albane Valenzuela made the same decision on Nov. 12.
“I felt that turning professional was the best decision for myself and my career,” Lee said. “It was a really good opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
One of the biggest factors that prompted Lee’s decision was her 30th-place finish at the Q-Series on Nov. 2, which earned her a spot on the LPGA Tour.
The Q-Series consists of three stages. Both Lee and Valenzuela were exempted from the opening stage in August in California because of their collegiate and world rankings, and joined the tournament’s second stage in Florida in October. With a 30th-place finish, Lee’s journey in the tournament came to an end, but her impressive performance caught the eye of the golf world.
Five collegians competed in the Q-Series, and all five have subsequently turned professional instead of deferring their status to compete collegiately. In addition to Lee and Valenzuela, USC junior Jennifer Chang, Florida senior Sierra Brooks, and Florida State sophomore Frida Kinhul have all made the same decision. In the Q-Series, the women placed ninth, 62nd and 67th respectively.
The LPGA season begins in February, and Lee said that she is not yet certain which tournaments she will take part in. Nevertheless, her decision was largely influenced by her LPGA Tour status.
“If I were to play for the [Stanford] team, I would miss five months of the LPGA season, and I want to give myself the best opportunity to keep my LPGA Tour card for the following year,” Lee said of her early departure. “That would’ve been difficult to do if I had stayed through and didn’t play [with the LPGA] until June .”
Earlier this season, Lee became the most decorated women’s golfer in Stanford history, winning a program record nine tournaments over her career.
Her most recent win came in a dominant 26-stroke victory at The Molly Intercollegiate in Portland at the beginning of October. At the time, Lee did not realize it would be her final collegiate event.
“It was a real honor to set the program record for individual wins,” Lee said. “It was really special. The coach was tearing up; I was tearing up… Of course I didn’t even realize it at the time, but looking back, it was a really special moment for me and my coaches and teammates.
In August, Lee claimed the prestigious Mark H. McCormack Medal, which recognizes the top player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Lee’s successful amateur career also includes two Curtis Cups and a two qualifications for the U.S. Women’s Open.
Lee’s absence will certainly be felt on the course when the Cardinal’s season picks up in February 2020. At the conclusion of the fall season, Golfweek ranked Stanford fifth in the nation, but without Lee and Valenzuela that ranking appears volatile.
“[It was hard] leaving the team knowing that we had a good chance to the national title,” Lee said. “I consider them my second family, so it’s really hard to tell them a couple days ago [that I would be going pro].”
The last time Stanford won the NCAA title was in 2015. Since then, the Cardinal women have advanced to the semifinals for four consecutive years. Lee referred to these tournament appearances as some of the highlights of her collegiate career.
Nevertheless, Lee’s decision to join the LPGA is the completion of a childhood dream, which began when she would watch her favorite golfers on TV as a little kid.
“I’m the only child, so my parents got me started in a lot of different things, but I stuck with golf,” Lee said. “My dad was a recreational golfer, not so serious, but I think he just wanted me to try it out. I loved it ever since.”
“It’s always been my lifelong goal of someday making it onto the professional tour,” Lee added. “Now that it’s a reality, it’s just setting in. I’m super excited to get out there.”
Despite no longer competing for the Cardinal, Lee will remain on campus to complete her degree. She plans on graduating in June with a degree in Science, Technology, and Society (STS), with a concentration in communication and media.
“It’s been really fun, and I’ve been able to explore a lot of different classes,” Lee said. “I love the academic part of Stanford. It’s been really, really cool to just immerse myself in such an intellectual group of people.”
Although her time as an athlete has drawn to a close, Lee and her record achievements will remain part of Stanford athletic lore.
“These past years have been the best of my life,” Lee wrote in her statement. “I’m fortunate to have had many opportunities to grow as a person and an athlete through cultivating lasting relationships and immersing myself in the Stanford community…I’m very proud to call myself a lifelong Cardinal and member of the Stanford Women’s Golf team.”