Can Minjee Lee go on to become Australia’s most prolific Major champion? The lady she’s chasing weighs in…

We begin this issue with a sincere apology to the 150th Open at St Andrews. This column – like our cover – was to be dedicated to such a grand occasion for golf, but somebody decided to throw a spanner in the works by producing an even mightier moment for the game in Australia. So symbolic, in fact, even Karrie Webb thought she was watching a replay of her iconic 2001 US Women’s Open triumph. 

As 26-year-old Minjee Lee was smashing drives and records on her way to a commanding four-shot victory in June’s US Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, seven-time Major champion Webb needed a moment to pull herself together.

“I got a little choked up,” Webb confessed to Australian Golf Digest. 

“This win is so huge for Minjee and Australian golf in general. I guess the relevance of myself having won there in 2001, and how she got to walk down the 18th fairway just like I did, knowing she was going to win, made it that extra special to watch.”

 getty images: Donald Miralle, WILLIAM WEST

The synergies between Minjee’s second Major title and her idol’s equally historic Pine Needles performance 21 years ago were uncanny. Both came at the same course, obviously. Both were achieved at 26 years of age. And both produced landslide performances that left the golf world in total awe. The question now is: can Minjee march on like her mentor did? 

“The confidence she is going to take from this win is the most exciting part, for me,” Webb says. “Minjee will now have the belief to take on the Jin Young Kos and Nelly Kordas for that No.1 mantle. She is going to believe she truly has what it takes to be the game’s dominant player and that’s a frightening scenario for her competition, given the way she is swinging it. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure if she really had that feeling before this performance.” 

There was one noticeable difference between Lee and Webb’s US Open whitewashes, however: the cheques they banked for their respective efforts. Lee took home a staggering $US1.8 million ($2.5m) for her victory – a record payout for the women’s game. Karrie deposited $520,000. No wonder she was teary.

“Oh my God! It took me a whole year to make $1.8m – and one of my best years too,” laughs Webb, who occupies second place on the LPGA Tour’s career moneylist with $20,276,503. 

“In fact, I think I only won $1.8m or more in an entire season a couple of times – and I had to win five events to do that.”

Not that Webb begrudges the enormous and long overdue growth in riches on offer to the sport’s talent-laden women’s circuit. Quite the contrary.

“I remember when my good friend Meg Mallon won the 1991 US Women’s Open and she became the first woman to ever win $100,000 in a week. Ten years later at Pine Needles, she stayed with me and watched me take home $500,000. It’s just the evolution of the sport and it’s really amazing how the USGA have stepped up with their prize purses this year. It’s really set the new standard for the other Majors to follow and hopefully reach those same levels.”

As for 10th spot taking home more than $200k at Pine Needles this year?

“Ha! I think I only won about five tournaments in my career that were worth more than 10th spot this year. It’s so good for the sport.”

With celebrations in full swing, Webb did have some timely advice for her star student as she stares down Webb’s own Australian record of seven Major titles: don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

“I scheduled my career around the Majors and Minjee definitely has that luxury now,” Webb says. “But I think there’s a danger in just concentrating on the Majors. You can put too much emphasis on those big events when it’s so incredibly important to play well in the lead-up events, too. 

“Confidence going into the Majors is just as important as the swing fundamentals and all that other stuff. You can subconsciously place too much emphasis on Majors because they’re prestigious, and your careers are so often defined by them, especially the men. But you’ve got to manage your schedule so the events you play in the lead-up are going to give you those feelings of performing well and feeling confident.”

Whether Lee can catch her idol only time will tell. But one thing is certain – Webb will be watching on and backing her every step of the way. “I have enjoyed being there for all of the Australian players, not just the ones that have won my scholarship,” Webb says. “I follow all their careers and I now know what it must have felt like to be my parents. 

“Every week I’m trying to keep track of 12 different players all plying their trade across the globe. I’m always looking up leaderboards and texting them words of encouragement when I can. I guess if I’ve played a small part in just helping them all believe this kind of success that Minjee is enjoying now is even possible, then it’s super, super rewarding.”

Here’s hoping our top men have that same level of belief as they embark on a pilgrimage to the spiritual home of golf this month. Bring on the 150th Open!