When Min Woo Lee sank the clinching putt on The Honors Course’s 17th green to win the 69th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship on Saturday, it provided a double-dose of history for the burgeoning golf scene in Australia.
Lee became the first Australian to win the U.S. Junior. He also joined his sister, Minjee, as a USGA Junior champion. Minjee, a two-time winner on the LPGA Tour, won the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior, making Min Woo and Minjee the first brother-sister duo to win USGA Junior championships.
“That's probably the biggest achievement that we've got. It's awesome to be the only brother and sister to win the same championship,” said Min Woo, 17, who is from Perth in Western Australia. “That just means a lot. I'm lost for words. It's history. It's just crazy to think about that we both won the same tournament.”
While Lee often made things look easy with his play this week, a lot of hard work has gone on behind the scenes to elevate his game to where it is today.
With his sister putting the family on the map four years ago, Lee, then 13, started training with Golf Australia around the same time. One of those who put in a lot of work with Min Woo is Brad James, Golf Australia’s director of high performance.
Fortunately, James was on-site to see Lee’s hard work come to fruition. With Golf Australia hosting a national camp in Houston, Texas, James booked a flight as soon as Lee clinched a spot in the championship match and walked all 35 holes on Saturday.
“I saw him on the first hole and it meant a lot,” said Lee. “I knew there was a camp in Houston, and, yeah, it means a lot for him to come out and watch me. I didn't think that I would know anyone back at home to come.”
Min Woo’s talent was evident immediately, and coach Ritchie Smith of Golf Australia worked to hone the skills of both Min Woo and Minjee. According to James, the biggest area of progress for Min Woo has come off the course, in particular becoming more organized and self-sufficient with his training.
Lee’s physical ability and mental toughness were both evident throughout the week. He consistently rebounded from poor holes with good ones and he didn’t seem to find a pressure-filled putt he couldn’t make.
"Like all kids at this age, he still has a long way to go. This is a nice stepping stone on the pathway to what he's really trying to achieve,” said James, who coached at the University of Minnesota for 10 years. “He competes very well under pressure and he loves the big stage. He's shown that over the last couple years in some of the biggest events in Australia, but this has taken it to another level for him."
With Jason Day ranked No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking and former No. 1 Adam Scott also among the best players in the world, the bar has been raised high for golf in Australia.
And Golf Australia is not shying away from lofty expectations.
"There's a good culture with golf in Australia, especially when you've got the No. 1 player in the world, and Minjee Lee on the LPGA Tour, who is competing for majors,” said James. “The ultimate goal of this program is to produce major champions and Jason Day has proven that's possible. That's a good culture for our younger players to strive for and be around. We're fortunate right now, we have a lot of young talent developing."
After this week, count Min Woo Lee among the group of developing young talent that figures to keep the train moving for golf in Australia.