02 Aug 2021 | Professional golf |

Minjee's major breakthrough the perfect Olympic prep

by PGA of Australia

Australian Olympic representatives Su Oh and Minjee Lee pose in front of the Olympic rings at Rio 2016.
Australian Olympic representatives Su Oh and Minjee Lee pose in front of the Olympic rings at Rio 2016.

By Tony Webeck

Minjee Lee’s 2016 Olympic teammate Su Oh believes the manner of her recent major breakthrough at the Evian Championship will serve as the ideal Olympic preparation ahead of the start of the women’s golf competition on Wednesday.

After Aussie Cameron Smith finished one stroke out of the seven-man bronze medal playoff in the men’s competition won by American Xander Schauffele on Sunday, 60 players representing 36 nations will contest the women’s competition featuring 22 of the top 50 players in the world at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

Lee and fellow major champion Hannah Green shape as genuine medal chances for Australia and her teammate at Rio de Janeiro five years ago is adamant that being a last-start winner will free Lee up to chase Olympic gold.

Oh was tied for 13th in 2016 as Lee finished tied for seventh two shots out of the medals but her stunning seven-shot fightback to win at Evian removes a heavy burden at the best possible time.

“She’s been up there for so long and she played so well,” said Oh of Lee’s playoff win over Jeongeun Lee6.

“Maybe it was nice for her not to be right up there and come from behind and get it all done.

“That last shot she hit (in the playoff) was pretty fricking good, over the water.

“That will be great for her leading up to the Olympics.”

Now a seven-time winner on the LPGA Tour, the question of when the 25-year-old West Australian would fulfil her major destiny had grown in urgency with each passing opportunity.

She was third at the ANA Inspiration in 2017 and third at last year’s AIG Women’s Open, now able to play with the mental freedom necessary to become a multiple major champion.

Or Olympic gold medal winner.

Just 20 years of age when she represented Australia at Rio de Janeiro, Oh is already looking three years ahead to Paris 2024 and another opportunity to wear the green and gold at the Olympics.

“We only got to stay in the village for a couple of days but it’s pretty cool to be there with all the athletes from Australia,” recalled Oh, who admired three-time Olympic gold medal winner Stephanie Rice during her days as a competitive swimmer in primary school.

“Then you go to the dining hall and the best athletes in the world are all there in the one spot.

“Golf is so individual that you don’t really get to see a lot of other golfers or other athletes so that was really cool.

“It would have been cooler in my opinion if we’d had a teams event and a mixed event because then you’re really not playing for just yourself, you’re playing for Australia.

“I felt like that if you’re out of the medals then you’re just playing but we figured out if it was a teams event it would have been really close to the very end.

“That would have been cooler but it was an experience like no other. Hopefully I’ll be back there in Paris.

“It’s such an honour to make the team. I’ve got three years to work my butt off.”

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