ANDALUCIA, Spain — Andrea Lee knew what she had to do.
It wasn’t intentional. She didn’t want to know that she needed to finish 13th or better at the CPKC Women’s Open to play her way onto the United States Solheim Cup team. But she saw a tweet that told her as much the night before the final round at Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club. For most players, that would have gotten in their heads and spelled the end to any potential red numbers that needed to be fired on Sunday.
But not Lee.
She bucked up instead of backing down in the final round, carding two bogeys and four birdies to propel herself from T18 to T13 and eke her way into an automatic qualifying spot via the points list by just a single point over Lexi Thompson. It was an impressive show of grit and resilience, one that had U.S. captain Stacy Lewis on the edge of her seat, and Lee now finds herself at Finca Cortesin in Andalucia, Spain this week, decked out in red, white and blue as a 2023 Solheim Cup rookie.
“To be honest, I didn't want to know where to finish at the end of the day on Sunday and I happened to see a tweet on Twitter the night before from Grant Boone saying that I had to finish T13 or better to make the team,” said Lee. “I wanted to that day, just try to play like I did the first three rounds. I didn't want to think about it. If it happened, amazing. If it didn't, oh well, at least I gave it my all and did my best.
“At the end of the day, I did finish T13 and qualify for the team. That was one of my biggest goals heading into this year was to try and automatically qualify on my own and not have to rely on a captain's pick. I'm really proud of myself for the way I finished it off at that tournament and managed to qualify for the Solheim Cup team.”
The 25-year-old first earned LPGA Tour Membership at the 2019 LPGA Q-Series, finishing in a tie for 30th to earn status for the 2020 season. In a year marred by COVID-19, 2020 rookies were given another year to cut their teeth on Tour. Even with that bonus opportunity, Lee just couldn’t find any form in 2021, missing nine cuts and only finishing inside the top 20 twice in the latter half of the year.
However, the Stanford University alum caught fire in 2022, winning her first professional title on the Epson Tour at the Casino Del Sol Golf Classic in April after defeating Lucy Li in a playoff. She then recorded four top-15 finishes on the LPGA Tour in the weeks following her Epson victory, most notably tying for fifth at the Palos Verdes Championship presented by Bank of America. She cooled a bit over the summer, but picked up the pace again with another T5 at the Kroger Queen City Championship presented by P&G. And the week after that top-five finish in Cincinnati, Ohio, Lee finally broke through on the LPGA Tour, becoming a Rolex First-Time Winner at the Portland Classic, realizing a lifelong dream with her family there to witness it.
“At the beginning of the year, I started on the Epson Tour because I didn't have much status on the LPGA. I played about five events and the last one I ended up winning it with dad on the bag, so that was really cool,” Lee said after her victory at Columbia Edgewater Country Club last year. “It prepared me for this season on the LPGA. It’s a pretty crazy journey I've been on this year. Just can't believe it. All the hard work has paid off. It's been my dream to win on the LPGA Tour, and the fact that I accomplished that today is surreal.”
Being able to back up one stellar season with another is one of the tallest orders in professional golf and Lee knows from personal experience just how hard it can be. She struggled during the first half of the 2023 LPGA Tour season, missing six cuts before finally finding a top 20 at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links. She missed the cut again at The Amundi Evian Championship, but found some solid form in August, rattling off five consecutive T13 or better results in her last five starts on the LPGA Tour. Three of those were top 10s that came at the FREED GROUP Women's Scottish Open presented by Trust Golf where Lee tied for ninth, the AIG Women’s Open where she tied for ninth and at the Portland Classic where she tied for 10th in her title defense.
Having a lackluster start to the year made qualifying for the Solheim Cup the way she did taste much sweeter for Lee, and she’ll bring plenty of the nerve and determination that she showed in Vancouver with her as she and the U.S. team work to bring the Cup back home for the first time since 2017.
“I definitely struggled the first five months this year,” said Lee. “I think I was a little bit anxious to try and accomplish all these things that I wanted to do this season after such a great season last year. I felt like I was a little impatient and I was struggling with some other things too. I even thought to myself I probably won't have the best chance to qualify for the team on my own if I play this way.
“I tried to keep the Solheim Cup out of mind and just focus on myself and my game first. I feel like I hit the pause and reset button and regrouped and was able to turn the game around a little bit. The stretch in Europe was a huge confidence booster for me, top 10s at the Scottish Open and the (AIG Women’s) Open and I think that's when I realized maybe I still have a chance at making this team. That was the mindset throughout the entire year leading up to this.”
While her LPGA Tour career is still pretty young and while she is one of five American rookies teeing it up in Spain this week, Lee is no stranger to representing her country. As an amateur, she was a member of the winning U.S. teams at the 2013 and 2015 Junior Solheim Cup as well as the 2014 Junior Ryder Cup. Lee is a two-time Curtis Cup participant, playing in 2016 and 2018, and also competed in the 2016 Espirito Santo Trophy and the 2018 Arnold Palmer Cup. Though she’s never played for the United States as a professional, the Solheim Cup rookie is confident that the past opportunities she’s had to play for the Stars and Stripes as an amateur will help her navigate the nerves that come with this coveted territory. She’s also got plenty of experience playing team match play, something else that Lee hopes will prove useful as she faces off against Europe’s top talent.
“In the States, we don't play that much match play and so I feel like having those experiences of the Junior Ryder Cup, Junior Solheim Cup, the Curtis Cup, definitely helps,” Lee said. “Match play is a little bit different because it's one on one – or in this case at the Solheim Cup two vs. two – but it's such a cool dynamic to be part of a team because golf is such an individual sport. This is the one week every two years that we're able to team up together and fight for our country. I love match play, so I'm really looking forward to it.”
But all the matches and events and fanfare aside, Lee, like the rest of the 2023 Solheim Cup rookies on both sides of the aisle, is living out a dream this week in Spain. It’s one that she’s hoped to accomplish for a long time and one that she plans to enjoy every possible minute of as she plays her heart out once again for the United States of America.
“I played a couple of Junior Solheim Cups and I've always looked up to those women on the team and wanted to be in their shoes one day and playing the real Solheim Cup myself,” said Lee. “This is kind of the pinnacle of any of our golf careers, being able to represent our country and play for something bigger than ourselves. I'm gonna get chills walking on the first tee and when they say my name and representing the USA, I feel like that's the moment where it's gonna hit me. It’s gonna be a very emotional and special experience.”
Solheim Cup rookie @andrea_lee54 will be representing the red, white and blue 🇺🇸— LPGA (@LPGA) September 16, 2023
This newcomer earned her spot on the @SolheimCupUSA team with Solheim Cup points and brings her spot-on aim 🎯 pic.twitter.com/su3PVxwD2t