K.H. Lee stays patient on way to win at AT&T Byron Nelson
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MCKINNEY, TEXAS - MAY 16: K.H. Lee of South Korea celebrates with the trophy after winning the AT&T Byron Nelson at TPC Craig Ranch on May 16, 2021 in McKinney, Texas. Lee won the AT&T Byron Nelson playing -25 in the tournament. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
The South Korean had to wait out a lengthy weather delay before securing his first TOUR title
Written by Kevin Robbins
K.H. Lee's interview after winning AT&T Byron Nelson
MCKINNEY, Texas — Pictures of K. H. Lee with his AT&T Byron Nelson trophy show a joyous man under a bright sky, utterly free of tumult.
Pictures tell only part of the truth. Lee was indeed happy, having won his first PGA TOUR title, 500 FedExCup points, exempt status through the 2022-23 TOUR season and entry into the game’s biggest events, starting with this week’s PGA Championship. But it came with considerable distress, including terrible weather for golf. Late in the final round, players had to be evacuated from TPC Craig Ranch for more than two hours, leaving Lee alone with his own thoughts, a two-shot lead and two holes remaining.
Which is exactly what the 29-year-old from South Korea did, of course, shortly after play resumed at 4:15 local time in North Texas.
Lee birdied the par-3 17th. He birdied the par-5 18th. He shot 6-under 66 on an afternoon when, at times, a predictable golf shot seemed about as realistic as kayaking down a fairway. Turns out both were entirely possible.
“Long day for me,” he said, “I think everybody.”
Playing with third-round leader Sam Burns, Lee took lead for good on the par-4 third. He widened it to two shots on the fourth, and that was as close as anyone would get to him.
Lee and others who started late played more than half of their rounds in conditions ranging from a springtime Texas shower to an abject monsoon. It was so heavy as Lee took his stance on the par-4 16th that his drive traveled a meager 233 yards, leaving him 245 to the hole.
That was as tense as the tournament got. The horn blew moments later at 1:52 p.m. and Lee bogeyed the hole when the suspension lifted, his lead now two but the skies now clear.
He widened it to the final margin with the birdies at Nos. 17 and 18, where he was greeted by a triple-decker corporate skybox and a round of cheers from the spectators inside.
“I (didn’t) want to look on the leaderboard,” Lee said. “I'm very excited and happy.”
Lee was an unlikely candidate to contend coming into the Nelson, his 23rd start of the season. Ranked 137th in the Official World Golf Ranking, he had made 14 cuts, but he ranked no better than 80th in any Strokes Gained category. Aside from a tie for second this year in Phoenix, Lee hadn’t contended seriously this season.
None of that mattered. He became the eighth player from South Korea to win on TOUR. He did it in his 80th start, in a metropolitan area where tens of thousands of Korean-Americans — estimates suggest as many as 80,000 — make their home. Lee also followed Sung Kang, another Korean-born TOUR player who lives in nearby Frisco, as the winner of the AT&T Byron Nelson. Kang did it in 2019, the last time the event was been played.
It was unclear what Lee planned to do next week before he survived a storm and triumphed on TOUR.
But he knew Sunday. His victory at the Nelson wasn’t his only first. He was on his way to the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island for his first PGA Championship.