Sports

Central Kitsap's Lee drives it home

Central Kitsap’s Erynne Lee was inspired by her dad to golf. She will attend UCLA this fall on a full-ride golf scholarship.  - Mike Baldwin/staff photo
Central Kitsap’s Erynne Lee was inspired by her dad to golf. She will attend UCLA this fall on a full-ride golf scholarship.
— image credit: Mike Baldwin/staff photo

One afternoon, Brian Lee and his 9-year-old daughter Erynne watched Se Ri Pak win the tour championship on television, and everything changed for the Lee family.

The next week, Brian Lee brought his daughter to the golf course.

That’s how Erynne Lee found her calling, although it didn’t click right away.

“He was so inspired by her, and he inspired me,” said Erynne Lee, now a senior at Central Kitsap High School. “It was such a great moment.”

Nearly a decade later, Erynne Lee, now considered one of the top amateur golfers in the country, is on her way to the University of California, Los Angeles on a full-ride golf scholarship.

Her father isn’t surprised.

“I’m not shocked at all,” Brian Lee said. “She’s been getting better every year.”

For someone who once thought putting and teeing off were boring, Erynne Lee is happy she listened to her dad, who also doubles as her caddie.

“I’m very fortunate for what my parents have given me,” she said Sunday. “I wasn’t too sure about it at first, I wasn’t really into golf, but as time went on, I found it very enjoyable.”

The sport wasn’t appealing until she started competing against other youth golfers. And when Erynne Lee walked the course and saw her family in the stands for the first time, she was more driven than ever to continue.

“My parents are my biggest fans,” she said. “My golfing is my passion because of them.”

The Lees are a golfing family – only Erynne’s mom, Debbie Lee, doesn’t hit the links. Her younger sister, Katie Lee, a sophomore at Central Kitsap, also competes for the Cougars.

“My parents think it’s the most important thing to happen to our lives,” Erynne Lee said. “They don’t regret it all. It brought so much happiness to our lives. It’s something that we all can do.”

The two sisters and their father often golf with each other, either practicing or simply enjoying time off when tournaments aren’t scheduled.

It’s on the links where Erynne Lee listens to her father’s advice about golf, and life, which allows her to succeed at such a young age. Their most important lesson is patience, she said.

The Silverdale golfer also credits her maturity and methodical approach to the game as reasons for her success. Brian Lee believes his daughter’s sacrifices have helped her, particularly in high school.

“She’s given up a lot for this,” Brian Lee said. “She sacrificed having a social life with friends, and instead focused on the game. It’s gone a long way for her.”

At 15, Erynne Lee competed in the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open, which she calls her proudest achievement. She also advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur in the same year, setting the stage for a run with the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

But she wasn’t always on par with success.

Erynne Lee struggled in 2009, failing to find her form in competition.

Then, when she returned to the U.S. Women’s Open in 2010, her bid for a title ended abruptly when she was disqualified for having incorrect wedges under new guidelines.

“I started to question whether golf was my type of sport,” she said.

Once again, her father was there for a push, telling his daughter to keep her head up.

“Everyone has their hardships,” she added. “Everyone goes through these things. I still have hardships today, but it’s something I can now overcome.”

Two weeks ago, the Central Kitsap senior was back in the winner’s circle, this time making history.

Erynne Lee shot a 3-over 74 to win the Tim Higgins Memorial Tournament at the Kitsap Golf and Country Club April 29. She is the first female since 1980, and second all-time, to hoist gold at the event.

“It means so much to me, and it was so unique to win,” said Erynne Lee, who played the men’s tees at the tournament. “I just remember feeling an adrenaline rush from the morning, and then to win was something special.”

Central Kitsap golf coach Jeff Swanberg said Monday that her success on the course stems from staying consistent at a high level of competition. Swanberg, who also coaches Katie Lee, has coached Erynne Lee on the Cougars for the last three years.

“She has every shot in the bag and the mental toughness to go along with it,” he added, “but the improvement continues to come from being able to reproduce those shots under trying circumstances on a consistent basis.”

Erynne Lee has three tournaments scheduled this summer before she leaves for college next fall. She plans to major in business or a related field. The Lee family is originally from Los Angeles.

As for her golfing, Erynne Lee said she’s going to weigh her options after her first two years with the Bruins. Regardless of her scores, her family will still have an influence in her life, she said.

After all, the teenage golf standout is attending the same university both her parents attended.

“My parents are happy I’m following in their footsteps,” Erynne Lee said. “They actually wanted me to go to a different school, but they’re happy I’m following that way.”

 

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