01 Jun 2022 | Professional golf |

Lee hails $US10m US Women's Open bounty as 'huge step'

by PGA of Australia

Minjee Lee.

Australia’s No.1 female golfer Minjee Lee has hailed the $10 million prize purse on offer at this week’s US Women’s Open as another “huge step” forward for the women’s game.

Five Australians are in the field at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in North Carolina this week where they will play for a share of the richest prize purse in the history of women’s golf.

Thanks to a new partnership between the USGA and Ohio healthcare company ProMedica, the overall prize money has almost doubled from $US5.5 million to $US10 million in 2022, the USGA committed to playing for $US12 million by 2026.

The winner on Sunday will receive $US1.8 million, making it the most lucrative prize in women’s golf and further fortifies the growth of the LPGA Tour and the women’s game in recent years.

“We’re always talking about prize increases and anything to elevate the women’s game even higher,” said Lee, who arrives at Pine Needles as the No.4-ranked player in the world.

“That is what we try to keep doing. Just for the prize money to go up each year, I think it’s just a huge step in the right direction, and I think it’s only going to get better and better.”

When Annika Sorenstam triumphed at Pine Needles in 1996 the total prize money up for grabs was $US1.2 million and ahead of a rare appearance on the LPGA Tour the Hall of Famer lauded the work of the LPGA and USGA in elevating the women’s game so significantly over the past 25 years.

“I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s great. I want to thank the USGA for doing that and giving the women that opportunity,” said Sorenstam, who qualified for this week by virtue of her US Senior Women’s Open victory last year.

“That is a massive change. I think it’s a massive boost. I think it gives the women a lot more credibility and respect for doing that.

“I really didn’t come here for that reason, but I think it’s nice to see that this is really paying off.

“Keep on going. Hope other tournaments will follow suit, and let’s keep working this direction for other women.”

After familiarising herself with the course at which Karrie Webb was victorious in 2001 by playing 10 holes on Monday, Lee continued her preparation on Tuesday by playing the final eight holes with Kiwi Lydia Ko.

Looking to bounce back from a small stumble where she failed to progress out of the group stages at last week’s Bank of Hope LPGA Match Play in Las Vegas, the recent winner of the Cognizant Founders Cup likes what she sees from the Pine Needles layout.

“So far I’ve seen a lot of great things. A lot of short and long holes, so a mixture of everything,” said the 26-year-old.

“I think it’s going to be really exciting. Come the weekend, I think it’s going to be really tough, depending on how hard they make the firmness of the greens.

“I’m really excited for the week.”

Playing in her ninth US Women’s Open, Lee is yet to record a top-10 finish, her best result coming in 2017 with a tie for 11th at Trump National Golf Club.

In order to rectify that stat this week she knows it will take more than her peerless ball-striking tee to green.

“Just seeing the whole course now, there’s a lot of really big greens,” Lee said of the Donald Ross design that underwent a restoration by Kyle Franz in 2017.

“A lot of the lag putting will be important for me and just chipping around the greens.

“There’s a little bit of grain, so just got to be careful of that, and obviously ball-striking is going to be huge around here.”

The other Aussies in the field this week are Hannah Green, Gabriela Ruffels, Sarah Kemp and Grace Kim while the Kiwis will be represented by Ko and Julianne Alvarez.

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