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.

Golf Australia - - IN MY OPINION - WORDS MICHAEL JONES

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.

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