Date: February 23, 2014
Author: Martin Blake / at 13th Beach

Lee win the first of many

Twice before, Minjee Lee put herself in contention in big professional tournaments, and then failed. A third time arrived at 13th Beach today and Australia&aposs new golfing sensation seized it with both hands. Lee, the 17-year-old from Perth, became the first amateur player to win the women&aposs Oates Victorian Open with a final-round 68, six-under-par, that was near-flawless. It is her first victory in a professional tournament but surely not her last. Along with Su Oh, her 17-year-old national team compatriot, they represent the best pair of teenagers to come out of Australia for decades. Oh, who also played in the final group today, finished tied-fourth. Lee, born in Perth of Korean parents and a member of Golf Australia&aposs elite National Squad, had led into the final round of the both the Volvik RACV Australian Ladies Masters at Royal Pines (where she lost to Cheyenne Woods) and at the ISPS HANDA Women&aposs Australian Open (lost to Karrie Webb), so she must have had some butterflies as she teed off today. Beginning with a three-shot lead, she three-putted the first hole, then dropped another shot at the par-three third after her shot from the left bunker only just made it out of sand, and she had to hole a four-metre curler to even make bogey. But from there, she moved into another gear, monstering the par-fives, and picking up seven birdies. It was all over by the time she birdied the par-three 14th from five metres, for by this time Oh and the amateur pairs other playing partner, longtime professional Sarah Jane Smith, were not making ground. Lee said through 15 she felt comfortable, so that she could cruise in. &apos&aposI saw the leaderboard and I didn&apost have to do anything crazy, just finish my round off,&apos&apos she said. Asked if she could believe that she had beaten a field that included LPGA players like Smith and legends such as Laura Davies, she said: “Not really. I&aposm like &aposohhh I won&apos. Nothing&aposs really sunk in. It was good, but.&apos&apos At the 18th she crushed a drive and left herself in range on the par-five, but her approach spun back off the green. No matter, she hit a spinning wedge that stopped a metre from the hole, and tapped in for birdie. She is learning how to win, and the crowds had warmed to this phenomenal talent. “Just being in that situation I was so much more comfortable in today&aposs round,&apos&apos she said. “I guess I&aposm just getting used to it.&apos&apos She cannot collect the $22,500 prizemoney as an amateur, which left fast-finishing Scot Vikki Laing (66 today) to take the winner&aposs cheque. “That&aposs okay, it&aposs all right,&apos&apos said Lee. “Plenty of time for that.&apos&apos Lee is winning rave reviews. Her caddie Andrew Tschudin, a touring professional himself, said he had never seen such a talent. “I&aposve caddied for Minjee at the Masters and three years ago in the Australian Open at Commonwealth. She was 14 then and there were patches that were good then, but she was always going to be a great golfer. This week she&aposs played great. As the week&aposs gone on, she&aposs played better.&apos&apos Golf Australia&aposs High Performance Director Brad James watched with excitement. &apos&aposI think the sky s the limit,&apos&apos said James “It’s a matter of her team making sure she understands it s a long journey, even though the success has been great at amateur level.But there s a whole other level yet. That s what we re striving for — to be world champions and Karrie Webb showed that last week at the Australian Open that it takes a different mentality, a different game to compete against the world s best week in, week out. And that s the next step for Minjee.&apos&apos As for the player, she is heading home to Perth… for a week, then to China for a big amateur tournament, along with her friend and rival Oh. She intends turning professional later this year, but for now, the pressure had taken its toll. “I think tomorrow I”m going to be like argghh. I&aposm going home tomorrow,&apos&apos said Lee. I&aposm looking forward to being in my own bed.&apos&apos A Golf Victoria official was overhead to note as he took the trophy out for the presentation: “That name Minjee Lee is a good one to have on this trophy.&apos&apos And getting better all the time.