Born just a month after Barty, Lee has toured the world in another sport with global appeal. But a few years ago, she could barely raise two dollars from her local sponsorship, despite being a magnet for big business in Asia.
The 26-year-old walked up the 18th fairway en route to the most brutal US Open win imaginable in North Carolina on Monday morning (AEST), with a Korean substitution bench as the main logo on her hat. There were countless other Asia-based sponsors on her clothes.
“She looks like a Formula 1 driver with patches all over,” laughs WPGA Tour of Australasia CEO Karen Lunn. “We could use her so much more if she was better with the media and sponsors, but she doesn’t care.
“She’s a really nice person, it’s just really hard to get to know her. For Minjee, it’s very much about her golf. I’ve seen her at tournaments and how hard she works on her golf, then she goes to the gym and works harder than anyone I’ve seen.
“But I have to say, I’ve never seen her as happy as… [Monday] morning. She was really over the moon.”
Lee is an introvert and likes to admit it. Perhaps that’s why she’s one of Australia’s most underrated sports stars. She does not allow herself to be exposed to the public eye.
Ask others what her hobbies are, and you probably won’t hear much more than reading books and watching television. After taking home a three-shot lead after the third round of the US Open, she watched the Golf Channel—because she wanted to.
Her Korean parents Soonam and Clara Lee moved to Western Australia more than 20 years ago and raised their family in Perth. The family also ran a cafe.
Her younger brother Min Woo, himself a professional golfer who made his Masters debut last month after winning the Scottish Open last year, has a favorite saying.
“If Minjee’s life is like a straight line, then mine is like a squiggle,” he says.
In April, two-time Olympian Minjee caddied for Min Woo at the traditional Par-3 Masters match at Augusta National, looking like just another face in the crowd, not the former No. 1 amateur in the world who has every ounce of her assets strangled by doggedly sharpening her craft.
On Monday, her younger brother had tears in his eyes and called his sister during the trophy presentation when she became only the sixth Australian golfer to win more than one major, along with Karrie Webb, Peter Thomson, Jan Stephenson, David Graham and Greg Norman .
With the biggest wallet ever at stake in women’s golf, Lee (-13) was relentless.
She birdied her first two holes on the final round, saw her lead swell to six shots at one point, then even got a chance to laugh at a dolly of a par putt miss on the last one left. still defeated the American Mina Harigae ( -9) by four shots thanks to a final round 71.
“This is pretty special,” Lee says. “I’m speechless. This is the one I’ve always wanted to win since I was a little kid. It’s quite amazing to get it done today. I just can’t believe it.
She wants the trophy. She wants to beat you, she wants to beat your friend, and she wants to beat everyone else
“I think this will be huge for all the little girls and kids watching. Hopefully they can see me on TV and I can be a good role model for them and they will get more involved.”
Lee’s swing has consistently been voted the best on the WPGA Tour, but like compatriot Adam Scott, she never really rose to even greater heights because she wasn’t as efficient with her putter.
That was until this week, when Smith said he changed her grip and returned to a children’s putter, recently recovering from a case of what he admits bordered on the yips.
For the record, world number 4 Lee says she’s not retiring yet.
If she wanted to, a $2.5 million check could certainly help, but it’s much more than that as she chases Barty’s own record of three grand slams in a sport of worldwide interest.
“She doesn’t care about money,” Smith says. “She wants the trophy. She wants to beat you, she wants to beat your friend, and she wants to beat everyone else.
“But she’ll do it with a smile on her face, and she’ll do it with respect.
“I think she already leaves a legacy. Women’s golf has improved thanks to her and I know she just wants to be a really good role model. She wants to be a good golfer, but she also wants to be a good person. She probably hasn’t figured out exactly how to do that, but that’s her goal.
“I can’t tell you what she’s going to do, but I can tell you this: She’ll do what she wants, instead of what everyone else wants.”
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