Tatau­rangi fears Lee is squan­der­ing his best years

The Southland Times - - SPORT - ROBERT VAN ROYEN

Phil Tatau­rangi be­lieves Kiwi golfer Danny Lee is squan­der­ing the prime years of his ca­reer.

Lee with­drew from the BMW Cham­pi­onship in Illi­nois with an ap­par­ent back in­jury af­ter play­ing just two holes yes­ter­day, mean­ing the 27-year-old has pulled the pin on seven tour­na­ments in the past three years.

Tatau­rangi, a mem­ber of New Zealand’s 1992 Eisen­hower Tro­phy win­ning team, hasn’t spo­ken to Lee since he called it quits af­ter a birdie and bo­gey at the Con­way Farms Golf Club, but did ques­tion his re­silience dur­ing an in­ter­view with Stuff.

‘‘Un­for­tu­nately, Danny has kind of shown us in a cou­ple of in­stances if it hasn’t quite gone his way, or if he’s deal­ing with some­thing, he opts to step it out in­stead of grind it out,’’ Tatau­rangi, a one-time win­ner on the PGA Tour, said.

‘‘He’s been bat­tling a few nig­gly things through­out the course of the sea­son, but there are times when you’re not quite sure with Danny how much per­sis­tence or re­silience is there.’’

While not a close men­tor of Lee, Tatau­rangi reg­u­larly keeps in touch with the 93rd world ranked player when he is lead­ing tour groups or com­men­tat­ing tour­na­ments.

Lee missed the cut in the four pre­vi­ous tour­na­ments lead­ing up to the BMW Cham­pi­onship, and hasn’t recorded a top-10 fin­ish since snar­ing a share of ninth at the Green­brier Clas­sic in July.

Too much golf is the prime rea­son Tatau­rangi be­lieves Lee is let­ting what should be his best years slip away.

Lee has played 95 tour­na­ments in the past three years. In com­par­i­son, 2016 US Open cham­pion Dustin John­son (US) has played 66 tour­na­ments and with­drew once in the same pe­riod.

Throw in a busy travel sched­ule, and an ap­petite to train, and it can all get a bit too much.

‘‘At the start of the year, I felt he was start­ing to un­der­stand that and peel it back a lit­tle bit,’’ Tatau­rangi said.

‘‘It seems a lot to me that he might have fallen back into some old habits of too much prac­tice. And when your game goes a lit­tle bit off it’s hard to not re­sort to your in­stincts of find­ing it on the range, and that’s cer­tainly his in­stinct.’’

Tatau­rangi, 45, added he’s been con­cerned for a while that Lee has been let­ting old habits creep back into his game, in­clud­ing not learn­ing from mis­takes and re­peat­ing er­rors he made early in his ca­reer.

He doesn’t doubt Lee has the abil­ity to add to his sole PGA Tour win, but a men­tal and phys­i­cal break might be just what he needs.

‘‘He’s in his prime right now, just given that he turned pro early, he’s had a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence around the tour, he’s re­spected, his game is proven, and this is kind of when you want to make hay.

‘‘There are a num­ber of young play­ers in that mid to late 20s that have fol­lowed a sim­i­lar kind of path to Danny and are hav­ing ma­jor suc­cess. And he’s kind of got the po­ten­tial to be in that same cat­e­gory, but he just kind of con­tin­ues to do things each year that hold him back.’’

AN­DREW REDINGTON/GETTY IMAGES

Kiwi golfer Danny Lee, pic­tured in ac­tion in New York last month, has with­drawn from the BMW Cham­pi­onship with a back in­jury.

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