31 Mar 2022 | Professional golf |

Preview: Lee's belief the secret weapon

by PGA of Australia

Minjee Lee looking laser focused.

By Tony Webeck

Her ball-striking has never been questioned but it is Minjee Lee’s enhanced self-belief that makes the West Australian a leading contender at the first LPGA major of 2022, the Chevron Championship.

Five Australians will take part in the final Chevron Championship to be staged at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California hoping to join Karrie Webb as the only Aussies to mark a major triumph with a plunge in Poppie’s Pond.

A top-10 finisher twice at Mission Hills previously, Lee arrives for the 2022 championship with a mantle she has never previously held: Major champion.

The 25-year-old’s victory at the Aumundi Evian Championship in France last July was the fulfillment of a destiny that, while never doubted, took longer than many expected.

But now armed with the reputation as one of the best ball-strikers in the women’s game and unburdened by the expectation that comes chasing a breakthrough major win, Lee is looking to add a second in quick succession.

“To be honest, I don’t really feel too much different as a person,” Lee said of the impact of her major victory.

“I feel the same, but I think golf-wise I’m just a little bit more confident in just myself and in my game; just a little bit more belief there I think.

“Something that I probably don’t really think about too much, but it’s just a little bit more subconscious. Other than that, I don’t feel too much different.”

Erasing the question mark that plagued her in recent years puts Lee in position to embark on the most productive period of her career.

Renowned throughout her career for her laser-like iron play, Lee and coach Ritchie Smith have invested time and effort into extending her range off the tee.

It has been a combination of technique adjustment and strength work in the gym that has delivered an Average Driving Distance of 274.83 yards this season, fourth on the LPGA Tour through six events.

That extra distance has contributed to a Strokes Gained – Approach stat of 3.11 to be ranked No.1 on the LPGA Tour. The next best? Japan’s Hinako Shibuno at 1.87.

“That has always kind of been my strength. Just over the past few years I’ve been really working on my technique, and mostly just getting a bit more length on my drives,” explained Lee, whose best finish at Mission Hills is a tie for third in 2017.

“It’s a ball-striker’s course, so I think as long as you’re driving it well, you have good iron shots in, you’re going to have pretty good looks for birdie.

“At parts of the course it is quite tight, so I think having good iron accuracy and driving accuracy is a real big help around here.

“That’s where I have good strengths in my game, so I feel quite good around here. “Hopefully it all comes together this week.”

Adding to the intrigue for Aussies for the first two rounds especially is the pairing of Lee and fellow West Australian Hannah Green.

Like Lee, Green has invested time into enhancing her distance off the tee and enters this week ranked 10th in Strokes Gained off the Tee.

The 25-year-old recorded twin wins at the Vic Open and TPS Murray River prior to beginning her 2022 LPGA Tour season, finishing tied for sixth at the HSBC Women’s World Championship.

Su Oh and Sarah Kemp both qualified for golf’s first major of the year by virtue of their top-80 finish on the 2021 LPGA Tour moneylist while Gabriela Ruffels earned her place in the field by finishing tied for 19th 12 months ago.

There is live coverage of the Chevron Championship all four days on Fox Sports.

The first two rounds will be broadcast live from 3am-7am and 10am-12pm AEDT on Friday and Saturday on Fox Sports 503.

The third and final rounds will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 505 from 7am-11am AEST Sunday and Monday.

Player Profiles

Minjee Lee World ranking: 4 Age: 25 Major wins: 1 (2021 Aumundi Evian Championship) LPGA Tour wins: 6 Best finish at Chevron Championship: T3 in 2017 Best finish in 2022: T2 HSBC Women’s World Championship Key stat: 79.17 per cent Greens in Regulation (3rd) Hannah Green World ranking: 31 Age: 25 Major wins: 1 (2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship) LPGA Tour wins: 2 Best finish at Chevron Championship: T14 in 2021 Best finish in 2022: T6 HSBC Women’s World Championship Key stat: 273.38 yards Average Driving Distance (7th) Su Oh World ranking: 85 Age: 25 Major wins: 0 LPGA Tour wins: 0 Best finish at Chevron Championship: T56 in 2017 Best finish in 2022: T21 at Honda LPGA Thailand Key stat: 1.70 Putts Per GIR (10th) Sarah Kemp World ranking: 177 Age: 36 Major wins: 0 LPGA Tour wins: 0 Best finish at Chevron Championship: T66 in 2012 Best finish in 2022: T56 at HSBC Women’s World Championship Key stat: 60 per cent Sand Saves (36th) Gabriela Ruffels World ranking: 160 Age: 21 Major wins: 0 LPGA Tour wins: 0 Best finish at Chevron Championship: T19 (2021) Best finish in 2022: T12 at Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic (Epson Tour) Key stat: 35 Birdies (12th on Epson Tour)

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