On talent alone, New Zealand’s golfing supremo is in the right company on the US PGA Tour and every so often he makes it click. When the South Koreanborn Kiwi took out the Greenbrier Classic in 2015, it was a mark of his promise that almost failed to materialise. Coming to New Zealand as a teenager, Lee based himself in Rotorua at the Springfield Club but his stay would be fleeting. As the world’s best amateur, Lee went on to win the 2008 US Amateur Open, doing so six months younger than Tiger Woods did. Potentially rushing to earn a cheque, Lee shunned automatic entry to two further majors in 2009 by turning pro after an appearance at the Masters.
He instantly struggled in the pro ranks and although he put together some encouraging scores, couldn’t regain his tour card for the 2010 season. Over half a million in earnings for a truncated 2009 schedule was a steep ask. Heading to Europe, Lee pieced his game back together and gradually worked his way back into American contention with a changed putting grip and new mental fortitude. His talent with the stick in his hand had never been in doubt.
Winning back his US Tour card for the 2015 season set off a string of results that not only suggested he was able to compete but win. Several top ten finishes bookmarked either side of his Greenbrier breakthrough and at one point he found himself as high as nine on the FedEx Cup ladder. Furthermore, Lee would finish tied for second at the season finishing Tour Championship = event at Eastlake. Such is the demanding nature of the PGA world, Lee buttoned off in the next two seasons but has regained some steam before the summer majors with a seventh-equal result at The Players Championship in May. At the halfway mark at The Players, Lee was tied for second and in close range to eventual winner Webb Simpson. Heading into the final round at TPC Sawgrass, Lee closed within a handful of shots until he succumbed to dual bogeys on the final nine hole stretch. Close but no cigar has been the story of Lee’s professional life so far but there’s no shock and surprise surrounding him as there was for the storied success of Michael Campbell or Craig Perks. With Lee, there and thereabouts could well turn into something bigger.