Date: October 23, 2015
Author: Martin Blake

It’s a marathon for rookie Minjee Lee

For Minjee Lee,  her first season as a full-time professional has been a marathon rather than a sprint. Fortunately for the best young female player Australia has produced since the great Karrie Webb, Perth’s Lee is still running hard.

It has been a remarkable debut season for the former world No. 1 amateur and twice Australian amateur champion on the LPGA Tour in the United States.

This week Lee is playing in Taiwan in an LPGA event; last week she was in South Korea. Next week it will be somewhere else. She has already played 25 tournaments around the world and only one player on the tour (Chella Choi, who has played 26) has had a heavier workload.

The immediate goals are twofold; with four tournaments remaining the Tour Championship is approaching, with its million bonus for the winner of the Race to CME Globe points system. Lydia Ko of New Zealand leads that ranking at the moment from Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis, and it would be a stretch to suggest that Lee could contend for that title.

But then there is the rookie of the year award, also judged on points. Lee is third in that prestigious award, but just one strong finish away from taking the lead. The question is whether at 19, she has the energy to find her best golf again.

Lee’s first season has been memorable on several counts:

*She has earned $US697,736, 17th on the tour.

*She logged her first win, the Kingsmill Championship, in May.

*She is ranked 14th on the Race to CME Globe standings, meaning she will take her place with the world’s best players in the tour championship, in Naples, Florida from 19-22 November.

* She has a world ranking of 15th.

* She could still win the rookie of the year award. At the moment, she is third behind Sei Young Kim and Hyo Joo Kim, both of South Korea, in a red hot rookie group for 2015.

Lee is part of Golf Australia’s rookie program for young Australian professionals, and Brad James, director of high performance at GA, says Lee needs to find a US base as part of the next step. “At the moment, she’s living out of hotels,’’ said James. “She’s looking at that for stability. But she’s had an incredible year, an amazing year. To be able to achieve what she has at such a young age, especially adjusting the to the travel that she’s had to do, to adjust to all the needs of her sponsors and things like that, it’s remarkable.’’

Recently the teenager came back to Perth for a couple of weeks to enjoy the comforts of home. Then it was off again for the LPGA’s Asian swing.

When Lee finally takes a proper break, presumably after the Tour Championship, she should be back for the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open next February, which is part of the LPGA Tour and as such, draws the world’s best players.

Two years ago at Victoria she led into the final round, playing as an amateur, shooting 67-68-68 before fading with a nervous 78 on the final day.

Reeled in by Webb, Lee faltered late to finish just outside the top 10. Last year at Royal Melbourne, she tied for seventh. But this time around, she will come as a superstar of the world game. Watch this space.