Minjee Lee rocked up at the Kingsmill Resort in Virginia this week to defend an LPGA Tour title for the first time and was delighted to find she had her own car park. Lee tweeted a photo of the sign designating her park, and it is part of the evolution of her career that she is feeling more like she belongs at the top of the women's game.
Australia's Lee, 19, won the Kingsmill Championship last year as her breakthrough win in her rookie year on the world's biggest tour, and has since won the Lotte Championship in Hawaii in her second year, rising to No. 12 on the world rankings.
She is living up to her promise as the best female golfing talent to emerge from this country since Karrie Webb 20 years ago.
Perth's Lee, a member of Golf Australia's rookie squad of gifted young professionals, has enjoyed the feeling of going back to Kingsmill to defend. "Actually it's been really nice,'' she told media today. "I mean, everything feels really familiar, so that's always a nice feeling, and just driving in, I saw my little picture up there, so I was like, oh, so it was really cool. And when I walked in, there was a huge picture of me with the trophy, so that was really nice.''
Lee's closing 65 last year was enough to do the trick for her, although her round was interrupted by darkness on the 16th green and she had to sleep on it. Her best memory, she says, is of the eagle she made at the 15th on that final day, effectively the game-changer. "I think just the eagle that I made before it got dark, that was my most memorable hole for the whole year. Just that moment was really special to me, and obviously waking up really early on Monday to finish. But all in all, it was really great.''
The win gave her exemptions to continue playing on the tour without the need to grind out every tournament. "I think it really came at a good time because, I mean, leading up to that tournament, I was sort of a little bit homesick, and I was not really settled down. But after I won here, I just like really settled down, and I just kind of got comfortable with being out here, and I realized that I can compete out here. It was nice.''
Lee's next goal is to win a major, although the Olympics are another priority this year. She is Australia's top-ranked player and currently on track to represent her country at Rio de Janeiro alongside Karrie Webb. "I'm really, really excited to go to the Olympics, I mean, well, if I go. I'm really excited for the Olympics. I don't think there's — there's no other tournament that's going to be like the Olympics. I think it's going to be a very different experience, but overall, really excited for it.''
The chance to play alongside Webb is another bonus, because Lee (and her former national amateur teammate Su Oh were in the Karrie Webb scholarship squad several years ago, travelling to a US Open to spend time with the legendary Australian who has won seven majors.
"That (playing with Webb) would be so cool,'' said Lee. "I know she's like super pumped for the Olympics, so just — no, it would be such a great, I mean, it would just be really special for me to be able to be with her there. I know she's really excited for the Olympics. I think this is just what she's been waiting for.''
Sixteen of the world's top 20 players are in the field at Kingsmill, including the world No. 1 Lydia Ko.
Australia is represented by Lee, Su Oh, Karrie Webb, Sarah Jane Smith, Sarah Kemp and Katherine Kirk.
Lee tees off at 1.17pm Thursday (3.17am Friday, Australian eastern time) with Cristie Kerr and Gerina Piller.