27 May 2020 | Professional golf | Feature stories |
Great Australian Moments 9: Minjee's coronation
by Martin Blake
We already knew about Minjee Lee.
The teenager from Royal Fremantle had been a US junior champion, a world No. 1 amateur and just a year before her big breakthrough in 2015, she’d won the Vic Open at 13th Beach as an 18-year-old amateur, two Australian Amateur titles and helped Australia to a world teams championship.
So what happened at the Kingsmill Resort in Virginia in May, 2015, was more of a franking of all that talent and hard work over the previous few years. Yet Lee’s first LPGA Tour victory in the Kingsmill Championship qualifies as the arrival of the next Australian superstar of golf, a hugely significant moment.
Then aged 19 and a rookie on the main tour, Lee shot four rounds in the 60s to win a rain-interrupted tournament by two shots from So Yeon Ryu of South Korea.
The weather even spoiled part of her coronation; she still had three holes to complete when play had to be called off on the Sunday, meaning she had to come back and complete her final round on the Monday morning to a largely empty house.
“I feel like I could probably do it again,” she said later. “It just gives me confidence that I can play out here and win out here.”
She was just the seventh player in LPGA Tour history to win a tournament before her 19th birthday. The victory also vaulted her into the world’s top 20 players for the first time, in a season when she would overtake the great Karrie Webb as Australia’s No. 1 player – a mantle that Webb had held for 20 years or so.
It’s worth noting that Webb had a strong influence in Lee’s rise; the Western Australian, whose Korean parents emigrated to Australia some years earlier, was part of the Karrie Webb Scholarship squad in 2013, travelling to a major in the United States to spend time with Australia’s greatest-ever female player.
Lee scarcely let up in her chase for fame and fortune. She won again on the LPGA Tour in 2016 (twice), and in 2018 and 2019, when she at one point reached a world ranking of No. 2 after a victory in Los Angeles.
Thus far she has not won a major nor an ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. She has strong competition at close range now with her WA compatriot Hannah Green winning twice on the LPGA Tour in 2019, not to mention her own brother Min Woo winning the Vic Open on the European Tour in 2020.
But don’t bet against her doing it pretty soon.
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