10 Feb 2020 | Professional golf | Feature stories |

CLAYTON: The thing about Min Woo

by Mike Clayton

Min Woo trophy image
Min Woo Lee has power and charisma. Photo: Kirsty Wrice

Late in 1966, Bob Stanton, a skinny 20-year-old kid with a great golf swing, beat Arnold Palmer in a playoff for the Dunlop International over the brilliant old course of The Australian Golf Club in Sydney. An important local tournament, it ranked behind only the Australian Open in stature, and unsurprisingly Stanton was assumed to be our next big star when he won it. Not a single sane person would have taken a bet that it would be David Graham over Stanton to win major championships in the United States, so far apart were their games in the summer of 1966. By 1970, Stanton had made the top 60 on the American Tour in the age when only the top 60 were exempt from qualifying on Mondays and whilst he played some good golf over the next few years he was off the tour by the middle of the decade. Almost exactly 10 years after Stanton’s beating of Palmer, Greg Norman announced himself at The Grange in Adelaide when he played his way to 64,67,66 and a staggering 10-shot lead after three rounds in the West Lakes Classic. A somewhat fumbling 74 to finish reduced his margin, but it was apparent here was another star quickly rising. Obviously, Greg had a better time of it, over the long run, than Stanton and since the quartet of follow up ‘can’t miss kids’ has been Adam Scott, Jason Day, Aaron Baddeley and Geoff Ogilvy. Anyone who saw them play as teenagers recognised very quickly their uncommon talents and if bank accounts are any measure of success all four have done nicely, thank you very much. At the Vic Open we saw the emergence of another brilliant young Australian player. Min Woo Lee, with a physique reminiscent of Stanton, who is better known as the little brother of Minjee, the LPGA star, and this win was of some importance. A clerical miscalculation cost him his place on the European Tour’s exemption list for this season leaving him in the somewhat precarious position of not being in control of his schedule. Assuming he’d made enough money (in only the 14 starts) to guarantee his status, he missed a few smaller season-ending events and finished up a couple of players, and very few Euros, outside the qualifying line. For many that’d have been something of a disaster but it he was third in the co-sanctioned Australian PGA at the beginning of the European season and, one would assume, well on his way to consolidating the security of his tenure in on the tour. Like Norman in Adelaide, Lee had a lead on Saturday night and whilst three shots is somewhat less secure than 10 (to say the least) there was a general assumption it would be enough to hold off Marcus Fraser and Travis Smyth.

Fraser has a game perfectly suited to the relatively short (6800 yards) Beach course but he would freely admit the modern power game, as it’s played by the kids of today, has long passed him by. Smyth has almost gone unnoticed despite playing some very good golf recently, but giving up giving three shots to begin was always going to be tough and probably only realistic if Lee had a bad day. Min Woo put the prospect of a such quickly put to rest, chipping in for a birdie at the opening hole, following it up with a simple four at the easily reached par five second hole and then a birdie at the short par four fourth hole. From there it was simply a matter of wrapping it up although Ryan Fox came with a mad rush at the end, finishing off his brilliant 64 with a four iron-eight iron eagle three at the finishing par five. After a long run of pars, Lee assuredly chipped close for a birdie at the short 15th to give him some breathing room over Fox, by then in the clubhouse. Lee made his lone bogey at the par three, 17th – a not particularly difficult looking hole but one nonetheless extraordinarily good at extracting a mistake -- and then made an easy birdie at the finisher to win by the margin he began, and only one less than Norman had finished with in 1976. “I’m not going to say who I can be or what I can do,’’ said the champion wisely in the after-game press interviews but there are more than a few willing to wager he is the next local star. Importantly for the game here he is a joy to watch with a youthful measure of indefinable charisma and a great swing matching power with the ability to hit really cool shots, shots just out of the reach of the majority of the field. It’s a big advantage.

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