Lee swings home for a short spell

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AUSTRALIAN golf’s next big thing, Minjee Lee, took a rare chance to relax at her Winthrop home this week after jetting back from her first pro tournament win.

The 17-year-old’s flawless swing is astonishing crowds and earned her thunderous applause as she stormed home to win the Victorian Open by six shots last weekend.

But, being an amateur she gets to keep none of the prize money she’d have won if she was just a few months older. Little wonder then she’s looking forward to her 18th birthday later this year, when she can turn pro.

Lee hit her first golf ball at the Royal Fremantle course in 2007 as a 10-year-old and has been swinging ever since. Her talents shined immediately and she was selected for Golf Australia’s national team at 12.

At 14 she became the youngest player to ever win the Fremantle Open.

“I’ve still got the clipping from the paper,” Lee smiles about the Herald’s story marking the event.

The sport is in her blood: her parents, grandparents, grea- grandparents, and cousins all played back in South Korea.

At 14 she became the youngest player to ever win the Fremantle Open.

It’s a prohibitively expensive sport over there so isn’t widely played but the country has, nevertheless, produced a remarkable number of PGA winners.

Lee’s mother Clara became her first trainer and coach after moving the family here in the 1990s.

“I just liked it because there were other kids around and it was fun, I liked the competition side of it,” Lee told the Herald.

She met her current coach Brad James in the national team. He’s helped her to an armful of amateur titles, including the Australian women’s in 2013 (she successfully defended it this year) and the 2012 US girls’ junior tournament.

While she practises a lot her mum says she’s a normal, popular teen.

Lee laughs off the inevitable “boyfriend” question.

“I travel a lot so that’s hard,” she says, although mum mentions a gaggle of boys are regularly in contact by phone.

“There are only four girls in the Golf Australia team so we are all pretty close and have a great time when we are together,” Lee says.

“I have missed out on some things because of tournaments. I told mum I wanted to go to graduation and the school ball which meant missing out on a tournament, but she understood.”

Mum chimes in: “Graduation only happens once in a lifetime, so I knew it was important for her.

“She will do it when she is ready,” she says of her daughter turning pro.

On tour, mum and grandma usually accompany the teen: grandma gets to tag along because she’s apparently an awesome cook.

“We always look after Minjee, we cook soups and make sure she has a good nutritional diet,” mum says.

She says her daughter is strong and disciplined.

“When Minjee broke her ankle a couple years ago she had to rest for three months and in that time she decided she didn’t want to play golf anymore, she wanted to study and do her WACE.

“Once she had healed, it didn’t take long for her to change her mind again.

“She had to decide whether to focus on golf or WACE … but it was getting a bit difficult at MLC, travelling a lot, so she decided on golf and moved to a school closer to home to complete her Year 12 certificate and concentrate on golf.”

Lee says she jets out again on Monday for another round of amateur tournaments and is hoping to get a few more wins under her belt before turning pro.

by CLARE KENYON

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