BREAKING THE DROUGHT
Western Australia hasn’t won the men’s Interstate Series since 1999, but a strong squad and home-course advantage has Min Woo Lee confident the Golden State can break its 18-year hiatus.
YOU’D imagine there’d be a lot of pressure when your sister is Australia’s highest ranked female golfer. Well, if there is, Min Woo Lee – the younger brother of Minjee – is dealing with it the best way possible; winning.
Lee, who is an 18-year-old Western Australian, created history in 2016 when he became the first Australian to win the prestigious U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. His sister’s win at the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship means he is also part of the only brother-sister combination to claim USGA junior championships. Then, in March this year, Lee tasted victory at the WA Amateur Championships for a second time, running away with a 10 & 8 victory in the final match. And now his attention is firmly fixed on May’s Interstate Series, which is being played at Melville Glades Golf Club in his home state.
The Interstate Series is Australia’s premier amateur team golf event and its history dates back to 1894. The top six women and top eight men from each state face each other in round-robin match play before the two leading teams compete in the final.
Western Australia dominated throughout the 1990s – thanks largely to the likes of Brett Rumford and Kim Felton – claiming two titles and finishing runner-up six times. But WA has struggled since it last won in 1999 and hasn’t finished higher than third. The absence of Curtis Luck, who was named the No.1 amateur in
the world in March, could hurt WA’s chances of ending its poor run of form, but Lee is confident his state will still taste success.
“I’m very confident,” Lee said. “We’ve come close in the past few years and most of the boys have been in the team for more than two years, so we know what we have to do this year.
“It would mean a lot to win,” Lee said. “To represent your state and to be with a bunch of guys that you are close with … it would mean a lot.”
Lee first picked up a golf club when his mother – a handy golfer in her own right – was teaching at a local park. He would listen in and emulate whatever his mum told her students. As time went by, and his game improved, a friendly rivalry began to blossom between Lee and his older sister, Minjee.
“Growing up with Minjee was great, to look up to someone and learn side-by-side … it has helped me in many factors of my golf game,” Lee said. “There was always a rivalry between my sister and I, we always had fun and gave each other good competition, which has helped us on the elite stages.”
Perth’s Melville Glades is making its debut as it hosts this year’s tournament, and will provide for an entertaining spectacle. The tree-lined layout requires a strong strategic game and features lush couch fairways, bentgrass greens and well-positioned hazards. So a home-course advantage should play into the hands of Lee and his fellow Western Australians.
“I’m familiar and very comfortable with the course, Lee said. “I’ve played tournaments there and I feel good about playing there.”
And, in preparation for the event, WA’s men’s squad played a match against some of the state’s finest professional golfers – including Brett Rumford, who recently won the ISPS Handa World Super 6 in Perth. The ‘Pros v Amateurs’ clash hadn’t been played for seven years, but it was a highlight of the tournament between 1984 and 2010.
“I am really proud and excited to have helped reignite the old rivalry between both the PGA and Golf WA,” PGA WA/SA Division State Manager Kim Felton said.
Meanwhile, 13 kilometres away, the Women’s Interstate Series will be played at Royal Fremantle Golf Club where Queensland is the defending champion. But the focus is likely to be on New South Wales, who, in a first for the state, has named the same team to compete in both the girls’ and women’s events.
“We have a lot of talent in the junior girls’ ranks; they are seasoned players despite most of them only being teenagers,” General Manager of Golf NSW Graeme Phillips said. “They might just surprise a few at how well they perform.”
The Interstate Series gets underway on May 9 and Lee, who recently finished runner-up at the Golf SA Amateur Classic, is raring to get WA over the line. But the teenager who, at the time of writing, is ranked No.57 in the World Amateur Rankings, also has clear personal goals.
“Short term: Top-10 amateur in the world by the end of the year. Long term: Get my card onto the PGA Tour and play in the majors,” Lee said.