As the Western Washington University men’s golf team flew into Ohio to compete in the Division II national championship tournament, so did fifth-year senior Jordan Lee for the first time in his career. The man largely responsible for getting the Vikings into that position stepped into the climax of one of the most dominant stretches any golfer or athlete has ever had at Western.
“If you had told me at the beginning of this season I was going to have this type of year, there’s no way I would’ve believed it,” Lee said with a slight chuckle.
Stepping onto the greens in Ohio, his equipment in hand and the sunny Midwest skies as the backdrop, It’s hard to imagine Lee or anyone else expecting the record-breaking success he had this year — arguably the greatest individual season in Great Northwest Athletic Conference men’s golf history. Not only did he establish a new school record, averaging a 70.3 score, but that mark also stands as the new conference record.
He shattered fellow Western alumnus Jake Koppenbergs conference record of 21 par rounds with an astonishing 26 for the year. He became the fourth golfer in program history to earn GCAA First Team All-American honors. The records and awards continue. His 2019 GNAC Player of the Year Award is all but certain to be coupled with a 2023 version of the award as well.
While Lee and fellow GNAC Player of the Year Aidan Thain led the squad to a GNAC championship in 2022, Lee felt a sense of emptiness after the campaign. Surprisingly enough, Lee began his unbelievable season this year with uncertainty about whether he would even play golf at all this year.
“At the end of last year, I felt kind of burnt out and kind of lost the love for the game a little bit,” he said. “There was a lot of failure and I felt like I wasn’t gonna get back to playing to my potential, how I performed my freshman year, especially with the grind of being a student-athlete. It gets tough always traveling, which I’m not big into, all the early mornings playing 36 holes – that became difficult to balance.”
Lee also explained the challenges of not seeing desired results and living up to his personal expectations after putting forth the work. Between his first and fifth year, although remaining productive, he failed to win another tournament. In his first year at Western, he won his first, and to that point only, tournament, while also taking home GNAC Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year honors.
“I ended up taking a little break last summer,” Lee said. “Typically, I’ll do about 10 tournaments, but last summer, I only did one, and I almost didn’t play any. It was a good break though, and I felt refreshed for this year, and my love for golf recharged.”
He explained part of what helped him climb out of the hole was re-enforcing sentiments from many of his current and former teammates. It’s difficult to find a teammate of his having anything but genuinely positive words to describe him.
“He's a good friend, he's a great leader. He's out here working hard every day and when we have questions, we go to him,” said sophomore golfer Seth King. “We look at him as that leader, that guidance. He's been exceptional. I was on the team with him last year, and I can't say enough good words about the guy.”
Lee’s former teammates often deliver similar perspectives. Devin Andrews played three seasons with Lee from 2019 to 2022 and had the opportunity to grow a close bond with him in the process.
“I like to ask him a lot about golf,” Andrews said in a 2022 interview. “He knows so much about the swing, and he studies it. He’s passionate about that, and it's fun to see him and get his advice on things. Over the years, I’ve always seen him working on his game and giving a hundred percent, and it inspires me to do the same.”
Lee referred to many different teammates that had an impact on his decision to ultimately move forward with golf and make another run at things in his last year.
“The biggest takeaway from those conversations was to just try to have fun with it,” Lee said. “‘You have to enjoy it; if you don’t, just quit.’ I was thinking, you know, I’ve been playing golf my whole life, and I know I love it. I don’t know exactly why I’m feeling this way right now, but I need to get out of it, and talking with them helped.”
With his driving ability being his strongest skill on the course, the next issue Lee needed to address was his putting ability, his long-time weakness.
“I’m just trying to work on my putting and short game more,” Lee said in the spring of 2022. “That was my weakness this year, and I plan on working on that this summer.”
In his personal practices, a palpable focus permeated the air. During the emphasized putting practice, he exuded a calm yet intense approach, which his longtime teammates often talk about.
“When I play well, it’s typically because of my putting,” he said in a May 2023 interview. “I’ve been putting a lot of emphasis on that, sometimes you see it pay off but lately it’s been a lot better.”
An improved putting game coupled with a pressure-free mindset enabled him to average a commendable 71.3 through the team's first six tournaments of the season. However, his best golf was still ahead of him. He captured his first tournament victory in four years at the Hanny Stanislaus Invitational in late March, while leading the Vikings to a tournament victory.
Following the tournament, Lee identified a turning point. He participated in a PGA Canada qualifier, with Devin Andrews at his side, caddying for him.
“Competing against pros … I saw a lot of big Division I names there, and I was competing against them,” Lee said. “I was close and I thought, ‘I can do this, I can hang in with these guys.’ That experience gave me a lot of confidence in my abilities.”
Following that tournament, Lee returned to the States with higher self-confidence and a pressure-free mindset. He immediately went on a tear. The golfer who had suffered a four-year tournament victory drought immediately won back-to-back tournaments: the GNAC championship and West Regional Spring Preview.
The team fed off Lee’s momentum as they qualified for regionals where Lee placed second and led the team to their first Nationals appearance since 2017. The pride of GNAC men’s golf finished second in the national championship and finished the season ranked third overall in the nation.
The almost past-his-prime retiree finished his Vikings career with some of the finest athletic prowess in the school’s history.
With a business degree also under his belt at the end of the quarter, he will look to continue in qualifying tournaments and see where things land.
“The prettiest sight in golf? The swing, the flight of the ball, maybe the sound of the ball coming off a four-iron,” Lee said last spring.
Joe Kramer (he/him) is a sports reporter for The Front. He is an aspiring sportswriter majoring in journalism. Outside of journalism, he enjoys baseball and spending time with his family, especially the dogs.