Australian Ladies Professional Golf
17 year old amateur shoots for biggest prize
Date: 15th February 2014
By: Martin Blake / www.golf.org.au
Minjee Lee

For a second weekend in a row, Australia's amazing young amateur Minjee Lee has put herself in contention to win a big professional tournament.

Lee, 17, has a share of the lead in the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open going into the final round at Victoria after she carded a 68 today to go with 68 and 67 on the opening two days. She will play in the final group tomorrow with Chella Choi of South Korea, who smashed the women's course record today with a remarkable 10-under par 62.

Lee's performance has been amazing. The Perth teenager, born in WA of Korean emigrant parents, is having what she calls her "gap year'' after finishing her year 12 studies at the end of 2013, and intends tripping around playing the big amateur events as well as some professional tournaments.

But she has business to do tomorrow. No amateur has ever won the Women's Australian Open. Only five female amateurs have ever won an event on the LPGA Tour, the biggest in the world. These are heady days, but Lee shapes as a future superstar of the game, the best Australia has produced in 20 years alongside Su Oh, her national amateur teammate.

If she can win tomorrow, she cannot collect the share of $1.2 million prizemoney offered. But it would give her a degree of fame in the game that will help her. "I'm really excited,'' she said after her round. "I was on a mission, kind of, today.''

Lee's ability to stay calm is noteworthy, and she came with a game plan: "Just keep it in play, keep hitting good shots in close so I can hole the putt, because they weren't really going in. I'm happy with four-under. I'm stoked with four-under, really.''

At the short par-four 15th, she hit it close to the green, chipped to the shadow of the pin and made birdie, then she bombed a long birdie putt at the par-three 16th to tie the lead. Two pars to close ensured she would be in the final group.

Her visage rarely changes from a sunny smile. "I'm pretty cruisy on the golf course. I don't really show much emotion, just smile all the time.''

Lee is travelling with her mother and grandmother from Perth, where she plays out of Royal Fremantle. She has had strong support from Karrie Webb, Australia's all-time great female player, who hosted her in the United States last year as part of a scholarship squad arrangement through Golf Australia. "She (Webb) has been really great,'' said Lee. "I think she inspires a lot of young golfers. She's a great role model.''

Choi came from the clouds yesterday with her astonishing 10-under round, beating the course record of 64 set by Anna Nordqvist of Sweden on Friday. She had seven birdies and two eagles, bombing a five-metre putt at the last for an eagle. The Korean, who lives in Florida and plays on the LPGA Tour, had just 25 putts.

She is ranked 28th in the world and was 17th on the LPGA money list last year, contending in three major championships. At 23, she is a coming force, and like so many of the Koreans, she was inspired by Se-Ri Pak.

It was her career low round. "I don't know why, I don't know why I played 10-under today, it's just amazing,'' she laughed.

Choi and Lee are two shots clear of New Zealand's Lydia Ko (11-under), the 16-year-old phenomenon. Ko had an up-and-down day, but the highlight was a 100-metre wedge shot into the hole for eagle at the par-five 17th hole. She cannot be counted out, and in fact, there are 15 players at eight-under or better who would count themselves a chance of winning tomorrow.

They include the likes of Caroline Hedwall, the overnight leader, who imploded on the back nine today to leave herself four shots back at nine-under. Hedwall and Suzann Pettersen, who played in the final group, both struggled, with Hedwall shooting 74 and Pettersen 72.

Webb also is poised in the pack at eight-under after a 68 today, and if she can post a 64 or so tomorrow she is not without a chance.

But it is Lee who is best placed on the Australians, and she was convincing herself tonight that it was just a matter of process. "It's just another round,'' she said. "I'm sure there'll be some nerves on the tee, but ...''

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