After seven gruelling rounds at the sweltering Honors Course in Tennessee, Texan Noah Goodwin and 36 holes of matchplay stand between Min Woo Lee and his bid to claim the world’s biggest junior title at the US Junior Amateur.
Lee never trailed on a blockbuster Thursday as he advanced 4&2 against New Hampshire’s Brandon Gills and backed it up by knocking out Number 2 seed Eugene Hong 1up in the semi-final.
Incredibly, Lee's finals appearance will the third by a Royal Fremantle member in a USGA Championship in the last five years, joining sister Minjee Lee (Winner 2012 US Girls') and Oliver Goss (Finalist 2013 US Men's).
Lee will also be seeking redemption for his namesake and WA state teammate Fred Lee, who succumbed to an on-fire Goodwin 5&4 in the quarter finals on Thursday morning.
Goodwin birdied three of his opening five holes and made the turn at 3-under the card and 6up on his shell-shocked rival. Fred Lee was able to peg Goodwin back but only slightly, as Royal Perth member’s impressive run came to an end on the 14th hole.
Left to fly the flag for state and country, Min Woo lee raced out of the blocks in his quarter final to be 3up through five holes against Gills. After an eagle to win the fifth, a mini-collapse followed with a triple bogey to lose the sixth and double bogey to halve the seventh. Gills got the pair rolling again with a birdie on the ninth, reducing Lee’s lead to just 1 at the turn.
Lee followed with a flawless back nine, netting birdies on 11, 14 and 16 to book his semi-final date with Hong.
The showdown between the number two and three seeds lived up to its billing as Lee who made an early statement with par, birdie to open, and then holing out from 30 meters for eagle on the third to take a 2up lead.
After a Hong birdie on the fifth reduced the deficit to one, a stalemate settled in — broken on the 11th hole by a rare Lee bogey to square the match.
The dropped hole only kicked Lee into gear, reeling off three straight birdies to be 3up through 14 and holding on to halve the final hole in a nailbiting 1up victory.
Lee’s final appearance continues an incredible run in the United States for the 17-year-old, who has won the Arron Baddeley International, finished joint co-medallist at the Spirit International and runner-up at the Sage Valley Junior Invitational in the space of a year.
Tomorrow’s final also provides Lee another chance to quietly mirror the achievements of his sister. Long used to being known to as "Minjee’s brother" in golfing circles, Lee is excited to have the chance to grow the sibling’s legacy rather than living up to any expectations.
“I think it's a momentum boost because it would create history for a brother and sister to win the same tournament,” said Lee.
“It's…just motivation for tomorrow really. Yeah, I'm looking forward to it.”
“We’ve been Snapchatting back and forth. She's pretty busy with her schedule though playing the International Crown. We just get Snap Chats back and forth. Been talking a little bit.”
The 36 hole final will be the third straight day of morning and afternoon round, with the weather doing the remaining golfers no favours as it tips well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius).
“It's tiring. But like the last few days I haven't been eating that much on the course, and today I started eating a bit and I feel much better,” said Lee of the heat.
“I think it's trying to — you're trying to survive out here, like the heat, and also you got to play good golf. But I think being healthy and strong throughout the round is a strong key to winning.
“I’ve been eating almonds, nuts, bananas. I had a Subway before the break, after the break, and, yeah, that kind of boosted me up. Thanks, mum.”
Lee is familiar with his opponent Goodwin, ranked 35 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, but Lee remains focused on his own game.
“I played with him at Sage Valley. He's a solid player,” said Lee.
“I’ve got nothing much to say. Just got to play my own game and see what happens.”
And as for Lee’s mindset for the final?
“Go win it. I've been playing great. I've just got to tidy up some mistakes. Other than that, I've been playing great. I have nothing against the way I'm playing.”