Seven days and more than 2,000 miles had passed since he teed off in the international junior golf tournament. But as Esther Lee stood outside of the club house at Recreation Park Golf Course in Long Beach, the Los Alamitos senior was still wearing the white visor she picked up on her trip to Olympia Fields, Ill.
“Being there … it was a once in a lifetime experience,” she said.
And it also gave her and a some of the top junior golfers in the country bragging rights over a bunch of touring professionals. Unlike their PGA Tour counterparts, the juniors beat Team Europe. Lee played a key role in the United States’ 14 ½ -9 ½ triumph at the Junior Ryder Cup at Olympia Fields Country Club, going 3-0 through her foursomes, four ball and singles matches.
She got to take home her uniform, golf bag and shoes. Some of the stuff she is going to put away, but occasionally, she might wear a shirt or hat to an event like she did at last week’s Long Beach Wilson Bruins Invitational. She finished third in that tournament with a 4-under-par 70.
After the Junior Ryder Cup was over, both teams also got to play in a “Friendship Match” at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club, two days before the Ryder Cup began, and Lee she was so nervous standing on the first tee that she was afraid she was going to swing right over the ball.
“I have never had that many people standing there watching me,” she said. Well in excess of 1,000 fans were circling the tee box and lining the fairway when it was her turn to hit.
And when her name was announced, the crowd, she said, began to cheer, “Go Esther!” Afterward, boys and girls asked Lee to sign autographs and pose for pictures.
“I have signed autographs before, but I have never seen that many people recognize me for being a golfer, and they knew who I was already,” Lee said. “I have never been that noticed standing on the first tee.”
While Lee and her teammates were eating lunch at Medinah CC, members of the United States Ryder Cup team stopped by to chat and congratulate them on their victory. She got to talk to Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Team USA captain Davis Love III and Fred Couples.
“They were asking us where we going to school, and what we were going to do with golf for the rest of our life,” she said. “Very few juniors get to play in events like the Junior Ryder Cup. As a junior, I have done a lot and played in big tournaments, but this is at the top of what I have done.”