Rookie Alison Lee leads after 36 holes at Kingsmill in rookie surge

Dave Fairbank
Contact Reporterdfairbank@dailypress.com
Alison Lee has 2-shot lead over Minjee Lee, Delacour #KingsmillLPGA

JAMES CITY — LPGA Tour rookie Alison Lee is attuned to the success of her peers and uses it as motivation, even when she fades a bit at the end of a long day.

Lee fashioned a second consecutive strong round Friday and sits atop the leaderboard with a 9-under 133 at the midpoint of the LPGA Kingsmill Championship.

"I'm feeling good, especially being on top of the leaderboard going into the weekend, it definitely gives me an advantage for this week," Lee said after Friday's 4-under 67. "But anything can happen. This tournament's only halfway over, so I'm going to try my best to stay focused and stay in the game, because anything can happen."

Lee holds a two-shot lead over fellow rookie and budding rival Minjee Lee, who also shot 67 and was the clubhouse leader after the morning rounds. Perrine Delacour, the 311th-ranked player in the world, is also two shots back after a 3-under 68 Friday.

So Yeon Ryu is alone in fourth after rounds of 67-69 left her at 6-under 135. Former Kingsmill champ Suzann Pettersen shot the day's best round, 6-under 65, and is among a group at 5-under 137 that includes Christina Kim, Catriona Mathew and Jing Yan.

The Lees — they aren't related — are positioned to extend the success of the LPGA's deep and impressive rookie class. Rookies Sei Young Kim and Hyo Joo Kim have combined for three wins this year, and four rookies are in the top 20 on the money list.

"It's great competition," Alison Lee said. "It adds fuel to the fire for me, since I see all these other rookies playing well, I want to play, too, and I want to make a name for myself, and I think it's really awesome that all the rookies this year are playing really well, and it's a really tight, tight race. With Minjee Lee also up there with me, I've known her for a while, so it'll be a cool rivalry among us."

Coincidentally, the Lees were co-medalists at LPGA Q School last December after elite amateur careers. Alison Lee, a California native, was an All-American and Pac 12 champ in her one year competing at UCLA and won the ANNIKA Award, given to the top women's college golfer.

Minjee Lee, from Australia, was the top-ranked amateur in the world when she turned pro last September. She tied for 16th at the Evian Masters, her first tournament as a professional, and finished top-30 as an amateur at two other majors, Kraft Nabisco and the U.S. Women's Open.

"To have good finishes in the majors was kind of a confirmation to myself that I can play with the girls out here," she said.

Both Lees have beaucoup game as they adjust to professional golf. Alison, 20, is 33rd on the money list and led early Sunday at the Kia Classic before finishing fourth. Minjee Lee is 45th on the money list, with all top-30 finishes in the six tournaments in which she made the cut.

"I can't complain about my start," Minjee Lee said. "It's been really great so far and I've had such good experiences with a lot of different players. I'm quite happy with my top-30s, but I hopefully can get my top 15s and top 10s."

Alison birdied Nos. 12, 15, 16 and 1 — she started on the back nine — before she began to fade. She had a sloppy three-putt bogey on No. 6, but followed with a birdie on the par-5 seventh hole. She reached the green in two and had a routine two-putt. She had a quality up-and-down par on No. 8 and a solid par to close.

"I started to lose a lot of focus, and a lot of my concentration," she said. "I was kind of struggling with my approach shots. Luckily, I was able to make a lot of good saves, and par saves coming down the stretch."

Minjee Lee, who turns 19 later this month, also started on the back nine. She birdied 18, but followed with a bogey at No. 1. On the par-5 third hole, she hit driver/4-iron to within seven feet and made the putt for eagle. She birdied No. 4 and the other par-5, the seventh hole, to complete her 67.

Delacour, a 21-year-old from France, played the par-5s in 3-under. She eagled No. 7, hitting a 3-wood to within 10 feet and making the putt. She countered a bogey at No. 12 with a birdie at 17, securing just her second cut of the year.

"My putting was good this week and my chipping was better," Delacour said. "I work a lot last week (on) my chipping, so today was better. And (Thursday)."

Alison Lee leads a professional tournament going into the weekend for the first time in her young professional career. Minjee Lee is in the best position she's attained after two rounds. Both will try to remain calm and steady, and to trust their games.

"I just want to have fun with my caddy and play some really good golf," Minjee Lee said. "Nothing too serious. I just want to play each shot like I want to play it."

Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.

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