You get the strong feeling when you watch golf in Perth that there’s already a base of fans with Min Woo Lee fever.
The 19-year-old world No.19-ranked amateur is the popular pick to win the Australian Amateur Championship in his hometown this week. And with a magnetic drawing power far greater than the average amateur, he manages to pull crowds through the gates with the expectation they’re getting in on the ground level of something potentially far bigger.
Those people didn’t leave Lake Karrinyup Country Club disappointed yesterday.
Lee, a member at Royal Fremantle, began his quest to go one better than last year’s runner-up finish at Melbourne’s Yarra Yarra with a fine four-under 68 to share the morning lead on the first of two days of strokeplay qualifying. By the close of play, 68 sat three strokes from Darcy Boyd’s lead and in a share of fourth place. Between them with opening 66s are Connor McKinney and Jack Murdoch.
But those who watched Lee will doubtless have left with their confidence in him intact.
“I was really scrappy early and made a really silly bogey on nine,” Lee said of his plight when he fell to one-over after “some of the worst golf I’ve played in ages”.
“But I decided on the 10th to have a whack at the drive and try to get some momentum with an easy birdie and then it kind of fell into place.”
Lee sent his drive on the downhill 337-metre par 4 almost pin high and chipped to inside 50 centimetres to kickstart his run.
“I knew 11 (a par 5) was birdieable with a good drive and then I had that momentum.”
That translated into more birdies on 12, 15 and 16 as Lee let the field know he means business this week after fine-tuning in Melbourne last week.
“I played OK at the Master of the Amateurs, but was aiming too far right. I trusted it on the last day and did it again today and it was good,” he said.
“I’m feeling confident; it was great that friends came and watched. I’m pretty happy with it all.”
Lee said last year’s close call, when he was beaten by Matias Sanchez on the last hole of the 36-hole final, was a motivator this week.
“You definitely want to put your name on that trophy, but last year Matias just played well and better than me. It wasn’t that I played terribly, so it’s not a situation where I look back negatively on it.
“But yeah, it’s motivating to go one better this week.”
The first round in the women’s field was a largely foreign affair, with Japan’s Yuna Nishimura carding a 66 to sit two shots clear of compatriots Suzuka Yamaguchi and Sae Ogura. The best-placed Australian is Doey Choi with 71 to sit in sixth place.