Date: April 02, 2014
Author: Martin Blake /

Lee, Oh challenge Webb in first major

Karrie Webb has not been better-placed or running hotter leading into a major championship for quite some time. For Minjee Lee and Su Oh, Australia&aposs top two amateurs, the Kraft Nabisco Championship represents a breakthrough in itself, just to tee it up and soak in the atmosphere. The season&aposs first major for women begins this week at Mission Hills Country Club in California and the 39-year-old Webb is the leading money-winner on the LPGA Tour, with two wins already and a world ranking of No 5. The course is more than familiar to the Queenslander. Webb has won the event twice, in 2006 when she famously holed out for eagle at the 72nd hole, and in 2000, when she was the dominant female player in the world, and was fifth last year behind Inbee Park of South Korea. In fact, she has been in the top 20 in each of the past seven years at Mission Hills. Her tally of seven majors is the best of any Australian golfer, but she feels that if the moons align, she can add to that tally before she contemplates retirement in 2016 after the Olympics. Her triumph at Mission Hills in 2006 was her most recent major victory. The 17-year-old tyros Lee and Oh, both members of Golf Australia&aposs elite national squad, received invitations because of their status among the world&aposs top 10 amateurs. Perth&aposs Lee has risen to No. 1 after a string of strong results in professional tournaments recently, including runner-up in the Australian Ladies Masters, tied-11th in the ISPS Handa Women&aposs Australian Open and her triumph in the Victorian Open at 13th Beach. Oh, who plays out of Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne, was runner-up in the Australian Ladies Masters in 2013 and is fifth on the world amateur rankings. Lee won the United States girls&apos amateur title in 2012 and is the reigning Australia amateur champion, but observers regard Oh as equally promising. When they played in a big amateur event in Perth recently, Oh won. The pair, both of South Korean origin, were in the Australian team that won the Queen Sirikit Cup in Asia last year; they are close friends and tend to drive each other. Neither has played a major before but do not be surprised if one or both finds herself in contention this week. They are widely regarded as potentially the best female players to come out of this country since Webb. Lee and Oh are both Karrie Webb scholarship holders, and they spent time with the Australian legend at the United States Open last year as part of that arrangement. Brad James, head of GA&aposs high performance unit, expects both Lee and Oh to fire. “I&aposd be surprised if they didn&apost finish top-40,&apos&apos he said. “That would be a big shock if they didn&apost. It&aposs any other tournament for them. They&aposre well-educated in how to prepare, they&aposve had some practice rounds with Karrie, which is great. They&aposre professional in the way they handle it and they&aposll treat it like any other tournament.&apos&apos Oh will have her friend and fellow Metropolitan member Michael Clayton, a touring professional, course architect and writer, on her bag this week, just as she did over the summer at home. Meanwhile Lee, already ranked 115th in the world, has received news that she is in the Australian team for the newly-created International Crown in July, an event that the LPGA Tour hopes will find a prominent spot in the calendar. Based on world rankings, the Australian team is Webb, Katherine Kirk, Lee and Lindsey Wright. There are eight teams of four players competing from 24-27 July at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Maryland. Australia is seeded eighth, meaning it will play the United States, the top seed, first up. Women&aposs team golf already has the biennial Solheim Cup between Europe and USA, but players from many countries were excluded on geographical grounds. Webb told media at Mission Hills today she was “very, very excited&apos&apos to have the chance of playing for her country.”I think we&aposve got a fun team,&apos&apos she said. ” Minjee Lee is a rising star. I think you&aposll see lots of her in the future. I think it will be a really great experience for her. Obviously Katherine and Lindsey, we&aposve all been out here quite a while. I think we&aposll have quite a group. I think we&aposll all get along well. Hopefully we&aposll take a laid back atmosphere into it and try and have some fun and see how we go.&apos&apos Webb has actually attended the Solheim Cup several times and loved the vibe. “I think when I&aposm there, the girls put on such a great show that I do miss not being a part of that. The atmosphere at the Solheim Cup is always tenfold compared to a regular tournament out here. I guess I do feel like I miss that when I go to those events, but it&aposs not something that I dwell on. “Obviously when the idea of the International Crown came up, I was excited that I could have an opportunity to play for Australia. I mean, the longevity of this event, the atmosphere might turn into something like the Solheim Cup. But to start with, I think it&aposs just going to be great. I know all four girls are very excited to represent Australia. We&aposll do our best to maybe ruffle a few feathers as the underdog. &apos&apos