10 Sep 2020 | Professional golf |

Lee chasing elusive major

by Martin Blake

Minjee Lee ANA image
Minjee Lee is coming off a top-three in a major. Photo: Getty

For Minjee Lee, the sobriquet ‘future major champion’ has hung around for a few years now.

In the Californian desert over the next four days, she has another chance to make it happen. Lee, 25, leads the Australian charge at the ANA Inspiration at Rancho Mirage resort with form on her side.

Although she did not play as well in last week’s LPGA Tour event in Arkansas she was third in the Women’s Open Championship at Royal Troon the week before, equalling her best finish in a major and outgunned on the final day by a hot Sophia Popov.

Lee’s major record is 30 starts for four top 10s and three top-fives. It is the missing link for the young woman from Royal Fremantle whose swing is the envy of the many of the players on tour.

She is No. 5 in the world and has been as high as No. 2 last year. Her time is surely coming.

The players gathered in California this week with all the talk around the suffocating heat that is tipped for a tournament that is usually played in April. Temperatures are forecast to hit the 40s on each tournament day; caddies have already been given a waiver and will be allowed to take carts.

While the players have told the tour that they want to walk – and the rules of the LPGA demand it – that regulation is under scrutiny as well.

Heather Daly-Donofrio, the tour’s chief operations officer, said they would work with Eisenhower Medical Center on the dangers this week, but she did not rule out waiving the rules for players as well if the conditions get worse.

Wildfires burning through California have been an issue too, with air quality poor. American Stacy Lewis said when she arrived at the course she could not even see the nearby mountains.

“It's been crazy,’’ she said. “Eyes are burning, your throat is scratchy, all that kind of stuff. For me I think that, the smoke itself, has probably been more of an issue that the heat.’’

Daly-Donofrio said: “In general we've heard from our players that they want to walk, that it's a major championship, and of course in major championships you want to walk. But what's most important right now is the health and safety of our athletes and our caddies.”

There are five Australians in the field – Lee, Hannah Green, Su Oh, Katherine Kirk and amateur Gabriela Ruffels.

The quality of the field is stronger with world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park making her first appearance after remaining in South Korea for a prolonged period out of concern over the Covid-19 virus. The 2019 champion and world No. 1 Jin Young Ko did not come, and the likes of So Yeon Ryu is not here either.

But eight of the world’s top 10 are in Rancho Mirage trying to find a way to take the famous leap into Poppie’s Pond as the winner.

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