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State golf champ from Smithsburg dreams of LPGA

November 10, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - With eight golf titles this year alone and a full scholarship offer pending to a Division I school, Maryland's new high school golf champion, Haeun Lee, 18, of Hagerstown, makes athletic stardom look easy.

In reality, it's been anything but.

Lee, a graduating junior at Smithsburg High School, began playing golf as a girl in South Korea, where the sport is taken so seriously that aspiring pro golfers focus on it full time from a young age. In seventh and eighth grades, instead of attending school, Lee spent her days at a golf camp.

There, up against the most dedicated golfers from all over the country, "I was OK," Lee said.

When her family moved to the U.S. three years ago, everything changed.

"Haeun just came out of the blue," said her uncle, Steve Gibson. "She just kind of stole the spotlight."

But while her training in Korea gave her an advantage on the green, it meant a major setback academically. Having sat out seventh and eighth grades, Lee was already behind in school, and on top of that, she had to learn English. When her family moved to the U.S., Lee said, the extent of her English was "hi" and "how are you?"

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Then, months after her family moved to San Antonio, Lee's father died of cancer.

Her family moved to Hagerstown to live with her mother's sister, and they decided to hold Lee back a grade in school while she caught up and improved her English. Later, when she learned that staying back would make her ineligible to play golf her senior year, she doubled up her classes and began cramming for the SAT so she could graduate after her junior year.

This year, her days begin at 6 a.m. and last until midnight, packed with school, practice, studying and a Korean SAT prep class in Germantown, Md.

"It's a heavy commitment," Gibson said.

That hasn't seemed to hamper Lee's golf game, however. Since moving to Hagerstown, Lee has won just about every title in the Tri-State area, including two regional junior PGA titles. She came in second last year in the Maryland State High School Golf Championship, and on Oct. 23, she became this year's state high school champion.

Practice is a large part of her success, but Lee said her ability to focus also has been a major asset.

Lee said her father was a golfer and was the one who got her started playing as a girl, but she has continued because she loves the game.

"I like (to) play golf early in the morning," Lee said, describing the smell of grass and the joy of being outdoors. "I feel good."

When the going gets tough, the memory of her father keeps Lee going, Gibson said.

"Her father believed that she could make pro if she stayed with it," he said.

Now, with graduation and SATs being the only things standing between Lee and a full-tuition scholarship to Longwood University in Virginia next year, her dream of playing in the LPGA doesn't seem as far off.

"That's my goal," she said. "If I try really, really hard and then practice hard, I think I can make it."

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