Kristen Lee had no idea she was setting a record. The sophomore applied human physiology major knew she was having a solid couple days over Sept. 16 and 17 at the California State Invitational, Chapman’s only golf tournament of the semester, but wasn’t exactly dwelling on her score.
“I felt pretty good, but I didn’t want to think about it too much, otherwise I’d probably screw something up,” Lee said.
She didn’t realize until after her match, when she spoke to assistant coach September Mirghanbari, that she’d just put on the best performance by any member of the Chapman women’s golf team in history.
“I was feeling pretty upbeat, but I didn’t want to come off as cocky,” Lee said. “I wasn’t aware I was setting a record.”
The women’s golf team hasn’t been around for long at Chapman but has found degrees of success since it was created in 2016. The team placed second in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in their second year. They were led by a standout, recently-graduated Emily Lewis, who in 2019 was nationally ranked No. 20 among female Division III golfers. Head Coach Ming Lao was nervous about the team’s future after Lewis’ graduation, but Lee has proven ready to fill her shoes.
“Emily’s a unique player and special, so I was thinking that we would be a notch below upon her graduation, but lo and behold, Lee played really well,” Lao said.
Going into the year, Lee wasn’t slated to be the front lining golfer for the team. Lauren Settle, a junior business major, had stronger numbers last season. However, as Settle is currently studying abroad in Italy, Lee was moved by default into the No. 1 slot. Lao hypothesized that Lee was motivated to prove herself and live up to that standard.
“I put her in the No. 1 spot in our first tournament and she met the challenge,” Lao said. “I think that lit a fire under her – she played like our number one.”
Lee’s raw numbers from the tournament supported her coach’s assertion. She put up a score of 75 in the first round, three strokes over par; then 71, one stroke under par, for the second round. Lao said Lee’s scores were Division I-level.
“Statistically now, she’s No. 5 in the nation,” the coach said. “It’s a small sample obviously, but if she can keep those numbers going, she would no doubt be an invite to the national championships.”
Lee believes in keeping a cool head, so to try and stay in the moment. Before games, she remains in a calm mindset and listens to slower, acoustic songs rather than fast-paced, energy-boosting trap or rock music. It’s this mental component that her coach said is key.
“The physical side is easy; the mental side is hard. If she can package her physical talents calmly, there’s no stopping her,” Lao said.
With a new star teeing off, the team is looking forward to a slate of tournaments in the spring. Lao said he’s excited for the season, looking to jump in the rankings, with Chapman currently ranked No. 19 out of 142 Division III golf teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. With Lee’s recent rise in performance, he’s optimistic.
“Her golf swing is awesome and the mentality is the right kind — stable, not too hot, not too cold.”