Min Woo Lee looks to maintain momentum
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Could achieve Special Temporary Membership at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play
Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR
AUSTIN, Texas – Min Woo Lee is listed at 6 feet tall, 165 pounds. That might be generous, but he regularly reached 190 mph ball speed at THE PLAYERS Championship (T6). He also makes a ton of birdies and loves the spotlight.
In other words, Lee, 24, is the type of up-and-comer who might do well at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, where the benefits outweigh the penalties for aggressive play. And his length – sixth in Driving Distance on the DP World Tour last season (322 yards) – should play well at rain-softened Austin Country Club.
“Yeah, I’m just stepping on it, even if it’s raining,” said Lee, a two-time DP World Tour winner from Perth, Australia. “I’m like, oh, I miss this course. It was so fun last year.”
If you’re looking for someone to surprise in Austin, look no further than the guy who surprised at THE PLAYERS Championship. Lee, who is playing in a group with Matt Fitzpatrick, J.J. Spaun, and Sahith Theegala, has plenty to play for – he’s projected to reach Special Temporary Membership on the PGA TOUR should he make it to the knockout stage – and has match play pedigree, too, having won the 2016 U.S. Junior.
Min Woo Lee's tight tee shot leads to birdie at THE PLAYERS
And although last year he lost to Billy Horschel, beat Thomas Pieters, and tied Tom Hoge, failing to get out of his group, don’t hold that against Lee, whose older sister, Minjee, is an eight-time LPGA Tour winner.
“I played OK,” he said of his lone start in this tournament. “It was one of my first match play events as a pro and I just love playing in front of a crowd and playing that type of golf. Bomb it, hit it close (with a) wedge, make birdie. There’s a couple drivable holes on the front nine and the back … it just suits my game.”
Whatever happens here, Lee looks like a player on the rise. He also seems destined to get to the PGA TOUR one way or the other. Special Temporary Membership would give him unlimited sponsor exemptions – Akshay Bhatia has already done so this season; Tom Kim did it last season – but if it eludes him, then there’s another way.
Under the strategic alliance between the PGA TOUR and DP World Tour, this is the first year in which the top 10 players not otherwise exempt in the Race to Dubai will earn PGA TOUR cards. Lee, who hasn’t finished worse than T13 in four DP World Tour starts this season, is third in the standings. Victor Perez, also in the field here this week, is first.
“I would love to play over here in America against the best in the world,” said Lee, who considers himself a global player.
At 47th in the Official World Golf Ranking, he is set to play in the Masters Tournament in two weeks. He likes Augusta National; he finished T14 there last year. He also was T21 at The Open Championship at St. Andrews. His game travels.
Asked where he would make his U.S. base, he said he spent last week staying and practicing with pal Kurt Kitayama in Las Vegas, which he called the opposite of Perth. For a player who likes the spotlight, Vegas would seem to fit the bill.
Ditto for the Dell Technologies Match Play, where most every match is full of wild highlights and unlikely momentum swings. It suits Lee’s freewheeling, aggressive style, and he likes that you can play the player as well as the course. It all brings him back to his formative years in Australia, playing state-versus-state competitions.
“Until I was pro, I played all those team events every year, which is probably more than usual,” he said. “But, yeah, I just like being in that like team environment and playing match play.”
If all goes well, he’ll get to play it seven times in Austin – three group-play matches followed by four knockout-stage matches.
But first things first: He’s got Sahith Theegala at 10:31 ET Wednesday.
Cameron Morfit began covering the PGA TOUR with Sports Illustrated in 1997, and after a long stretch at Golf Magazine and golf.com joined PGATOUR.COM as a Staff Writer in 2016. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.