WONJU, South Korea, Oct. 21 (Yonhap) — After being on an emotional roller-coaster ride earlier in her career, going from the world’s top-ranked amateur golfer and the best U.S. collegiate player to a struggling pro unable to keep her LPGA card, Korean American golfer Alison Lee now finds herself “in a better place.”
In May this year, Lee, born in Los Angeles to South Korean parents, penned a poignant essay titled “Two Sides of An Unforgiving Game” for the LPGA website, detailing her bouts with crippling anxiety as she was trying to maintain her footing on the LPGA Tour. The former UCLA star wrote that she had contemplated quitting golf at the end of 2019, before her parents convinced her to give it another shot.
Today, Lee is in no danger of losing her LPGA status for 2023, having earned nearly US$600,000 to rank 42nd on the money list and 681 Race to the CME Globe points to check in at 46th so far this season.
In an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Thursday after her opening round at the BMW Ladies Championship, the lone LPGA event in South Korea, Lee said playing better on the course has helped her mentally away from it.
“I feel really happy and satisfied with my life, and especially when you’re playing good golf too. You don’t really need to do much,” said Lee, who carded a four-under 68 at Oak Valley Country Club in Wonju, some 85 kilometers east of Seoul, to tie for sixth place.
“I feel like I’ve come a long way, and it’s nice to be in contention and be on the leaderboard again, because I didn’t even think I would be able to do that after a while,” Lee continued. “It’s nice to be here and playing in Korea again and playing good golf.”
Lee, who has recorded three top-10s in 21 tournaments this season, is no stranger to playing in the country of her parents’ birth. She was in title contention in 2016, when the only LPGA stop in South Korea was called the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship, before losing to Carlota Ciganda of Spain in a playoff. Lee also played in the second edition of the BMW Ladies Championship in 2021 and finished ninth.
“I love playing in Korea. My mom’s here this week, and my dad’s coming on Saturday. My dad hasn’t been to Korea in 15 years, and they were both born here,” Lee said. “So it’s really nice to be here and spend time with them.”
Lee said she wrote the essay precisely because she was feeling much better about herself. Talking openly about her struggles was part of the healing process for Lee, and she now wants others to do the same.
“I feel like everyone needs to find their own way. But I would say the best thing to do was really open yourself up and talk to people,” she said. “Talk to your friends, talk to your peers. See what’s going on and give yourself perspective because I know when you’re not playing well and you’re not in a good place, you don’t want to talk to anybody. You feel embarrassed.
“I know I felt so embarrassed to play golf with people. I didn’t want people to watch me play,” Lee went on. “I think the best thing to do is surrounding yourself with good people and good friends and good company because you’d be surprised. There are so many other people going through the same thing. Just having a good chat with your friend really helps and really relieves a lot of stress and anxiety.”
In her early years on the tour, Lee tried to earn her college degree while playing professional golf. That juggling act was “definitely hard,” Lee acknowledged, but she has no regrets.
“I was so busy with school, golf and trying to maintain a social life. And then after that, when it was over, I had nothing except for golf,” said Lee, who graduated in 2017. “I think I kind of burnt myself out a little bit, and I was lonely, and I just kind of lost my way a little bit. Looking back at it, I wouldn’t have changed anything. I played some of my best golf on tour while I was in school too.”