Cal's Joanne Lee: Short Game Focus, Big Game Plans

- Pac-10 Championship Central

By Brian Price

American sports fans have a love affair with the long ball, but there's a lot to the short game, especially in golf: skill, patience and self-control.

In a 2011 Golf Digest special report, Peter Morrice observed: "For most golfers, putting is an afterthought. 'Let me just roll a few on the practice green before we go' is the common refrain. But think about it: Putting is nearly half the game. If you want to play better, there's no getting around it: You must become a better putter."

It's a notion that California junior Joanne Lee has fully embraced.

"I love focusing on the short game," she said. "I do feel it's the most important part of golf."

And when it comes to fan appeal, Lee believes the short game outdoes a 250-yard drive any day of the week.

"[There's nothing] like hitting a tight shot into a short-sided pin and sticking it," she said. "When I think of Phil Mickelson and all he's accomplished, it's all the crazy chips that I remember most vividly."

Editors Note: A short-sided pin is playing the ball from the side of the green that's closest to the pin. In other words, there's less green to chip onto.

It's no secret that golf, for all its rewards and benefits, can absolutely frustrating. Unforeseen variables come in the form of bad bounces off of cart paths to a seagull picking up a ball and flying away. Lee laments that keeping emotions in check is pivotal to any golfer's success.

"Golf is a one-shot-at-a-time sport. Sometimes you hit what's considered a perfect shot, but it hits the pin and rolls fifteen feet away. [You] can't get mad at that. What can be controlled in that situation is how frustrated you get and not losing focus for the next shot," said the San Carlos, Calif., native. "Practice can take you only so far, but mental preparation and emotional control is really what shapes your score in the end."

Lee maintains that her team's successful dynamic also stems from quickly clearing the air when conflicts arise. Golf is a mental game and the Golden Bears are quick to eliminate any issues that could become distractions.

"[California head women's golf coach Nancy] McDaniel preaches open-awareness. If there's a conflict, we'll solve it on the spot. Problems get resolved without drama," said Lee. "Essentially we hold ourselves accountable for each other. It's a little thing, but for instance, if somebody doesn't fix her divots it will get mentioned. [It sounds silly] but the little issues are where big problems arise. We want to avoid that."

McDaniel, now in her 16th year at the helm, has seen it all. She started the women's golf program at Cal and often finds ways to institute new techniques to keep the game fresh and exciting.

"Each practice is different with a variety of drills and games to keep things interesting," said Lee. "Coach McDaniel has one really fun competition where we set up a miniature golf course on our putting green with doglegs and par-3's and 4's and use string to set up different hazards."

In a recent three-on-three mini-golf competition, Lee, Daniela Holmqvist, and Emily Childs, under the team name "The Jumping Choyas," faced off against "The Foxy Grandmas" comprised of the upperclassmen on the team. Lee was sure to mention, albeit gracefully, that her team won.

The constant competition at Cal serves as a tremendous motivating factor.

"Anything can be made into a competition," Lee said. "It's what drives all of us. Even playing [Hasbro Games'] Catch Phrase on the road gets pretty heated."

Now considered one of the top collegiate golfers in the nation, Lee did not grow up in a country club life.

"My older brother wanted company when he played and he'd bribe me to come along with trips to 7-Eleven," remembers Lee, who was nine at the time. "I started golfing for Slurpees."

But as she progressed, she began winning tournaments and her interest in golf became sincere.

"I loved the environment, being around other young golfers, winning trophies and, now, here I am," she said.

Hopefully, the impromptu miniature golf challenge will be a prelude to bigger things at the Pac-10 Championships on April 17 in Tempe, Ariz. At last year's Pac-10 championship Lee tied for 8th overall and shot a low round of 67. Overall, the Golden Bears finished 6th and entering this year's competition.

"I like the mental state of our team right now," Lee said. "We're at the right place at the right time and moving in the right direction."

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