Date: February 16, 2015
Author: Martin Blake

Minjee dreams of No. 1 … one day

Minjee Lee has her sights on a world No. 1 ranking, but she knows it is a way off.

Lydia Ko, the phenomenal New Zealander with whom Lee will joust at the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open at Royal Melbourne this week, managed to climb that particular mountain by the age of 17, the youngest-ever. But Ko is a special case; for everyone else, it's a slow burn.

Lee, the 18-year-old teenager from Perth is just two events into what many people believe will be a stellar professional career, but she takes a matter-of-fact approach to her future. She does her best to ignore the speculation about what she may or may not achieve.

"There's a lot of things like that, articles and stuff, but I don't really think about it. I think about my game, and I just want to play good golf. I try not to get it in my head,'' she told the media today at Royal Melbourne.

Having achieved a world No. 1 amateur ranking last year before turning professional, she acknowledges that the ranking interests her. Currently, she is ranked 68th. "Definitely, it might be a long way away, or it might not be, but world No. 1 is where any golfer wants to get to. I still want to be world No. 1, but I'm going to take one step at a time.''

The two-time Australian amateur champion is about to embark on her third tournament as a full member of the LPGA, the world's biggest women's tour based in America, the Open having been part of that tour for the past couple of years.

She plainly belongs. Last year as an amateur she finished just outside the top 20 in the United States Open at Pinehurst, and her first two starts this season, this time as a pro, produced a 12th in Florida and a 27th in the Bahamas, good enough for more than $30,000 cash.

The difference, she says, is minimal. "It's pretty similar in terms of playing. I do everything the same, I'm just hitting the white ball down the fairway. You get to earn money, which is quite nice, you can buy your own stuff now. But pretty similar to when I was an amateur.''

Except that now, she is in demand. Today she could be found swatting balls on the driving range with cricketer Glenn Maxwell for promotional purposes, and she is emblazened with sponsors' gear from Hana Bank, Srixon and Golf Australia.

Her first task this week, though, is to acclimatise. Remarkably for a player who dominated the amateur scene, she had never played Royal Melbourne (either course) before a practice round late last week. Already she is surveying the angles that RMGC is famous for, the lines where a player can attack certain pins. She found the course "quite special'', and noted that her wedges were spinning, at least for now. She also observed that position was everything: "You get penalised if you're not in the right spot.''

Lee will be one of the favourites to contend this week, despite the presence of Ko and another five of the top dozen in the world rankings. Twelve months ago she contended deep into the Open at Victoria, but faded on the final day, like you might expect of a young amateur, and the wise and well-travelled Karrie Webb reeled everyone in. This time, she comes with a year's experience.

Asked what she would change, she was adamant: "Probably must managing myself in that situation, under pressure. I think I'm a little better in that aspect because I'm a year older.''