Date: February 15, 2016
Author: Martin Blake

Grange presents a chance for Minjee

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Perth's wunderkind Minjee Lee could propel herself to the forefront of sport in Australia if she won the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open this week at The Grange.

And Lee, 19, has the tools to do it.

Tied-seventh in this event behind Lydia Ko last year at Royal Melbourne, she was also in contention as an amateur in 2014 through three rounds until last-day nerves saw her tumble to tied-11th.

Coach Ritchie Smith expects his protege to be up-close this week on her return to her home country after an outstanding rookie year on the LPGA Tour in America.

"She'll be thereabouts, but it's not going to be easy,'' said Smith, as Lee and her team practised at The Grange today. "The course is playing really tough. It's bouncy everywhere, not necessarily fast, but hard.''

Lee, the two-time Australian amateur champion, took a prolonged break over Christmas after an exhausting 29-tournament schedule in 2015, resuming last month with a tied-40th in the Coates Championship in Florida and tied-21st in the Bahamas LPGA Classic.

Smith said the Western Australian had made some subtle changes over the break, in particular to her long game. "We spent a bit of time over summer doing some things,'' he said. "We tried to lower her ball flight. It's a little bit too high and she's losing distance because of it. When she creates that flight, the club face gets a little unstable. We want to quieten the face down a little bit.''

Renowned for her ball-striking, Smith said there was a constant process of working on her putting to take advantage of good iron shots. "She's probably one of the best putters in the world under pressure, but she's not one of the best putters in the world when she's not under pressure. She's not taking advantage of opportunities on the days when there's a score available. She can do it but she's holding status quo, then when she needs to she putts really well.''

Lee has her regular caddie Jeremy Young on the bag this week and has a more settled team around her after some early chopping and changing. Young took over as her caddie the week of the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia last year where Lee won her maiden LPGA title, and he has remained in the job ever since.

She is the highest-ranked Australian in the file at No. 18, having overtaken Karrie Webb as the top-ranked Aussie in July last year. Lee made more than $US800,000 on tour last year.

Most of the 156-player field were out on the course today although some players are still making their way to Adelaide after playing in the New Zealand Open, including world No. 1 Lydia Ko.