She’s Australia’s top-ranked golfer – male or female – but Minjee Lee is far from satisfied with her achievements. Instead, she’s hungry for more. 

Minjee Lee sounds incredibly relaxed as she phones at 6 o’clock on a Thursday evening for a cover-story interview. Perhaps the world No.6 knew what was coming. After a sensational 2022 season, when she won twice on the LPGA Tour including a second major, 2023 had been, well, lacklustre by her standards. The Perth golfer had registered just two top-10s for the year through August. “It’s obviously hard to back up such a great year with another amazing year, I guess,” Lee tells Australian Golf Digest Women. “It’s a transition year and not a struggle, but it’s just a little slow.” The week after the call, Lee certainly sped things up.

She claimed her ninth LPGA Tour title with a thrilling playoff victory at the Kroger Queen City Championship in Cincinnati, Ohio. In her next start two weeks later, the 27-year-old again found herself in a playoff, this time going down to Da Yeon Lee at the Hana Financial Group Championship in Korea. It was her second runner-up at the event.

Lee had been close to finding something we didn’t know about; a eureka moment with her putting stroke. “I struggled a little bit with my putting the end half of last year,” Lee said. “I’ve been trying to gain a little bit more confidence back in that part of my game.”

Perhaps her laidback disposition comes from the fact she has cemented herself as one of Australia’s greatest golfers while still in her 20s. Last year, at the US Women’s Open at Pine Needles in North Carolina, Lee shot a 72-hole total of 271 for the lowest score in event’s history. She also joined her mentor Karrie Webb (2000 and 2001), as well as Jan Stephenson (1983), as the only three Australians to have won the US Women’s Open. More importantly to Australians, Lee’s victory, which came a year after her breakthrough at the 2021 Evian Championship, made her a multiple major champion. She joined five other golfers from Down Under to have won multiple majors. That group includes seven-time major winner Webb, five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thomson, as well as Stephenson (1981 du Maurier Classic, 1982 LPGA Championship, 1983 US Women’s Open), David Graham (1979 PGA Championship, 1981 US Open) and Greg Norman (1986 and 1993 Opens).

“Sometimes I forget that it’s a great achievement,” Lee says. “When you’re on the road, I don’t think you really have the time – or I [don’t] have the time – to really sit back and appreciate it. I feel like when I go and play those majors, I don’t feel the freedom because you want to go and you want to play well.

“A lot of people spoke about it. A lot of people were like, ‘Oh, when is she going to win her first major?’ And seven years down the road, I did, which felt like a real big relief. I don’t feel near as much pressure as I used to. So I guess it is a great feeling that not everybody’s talking about it [anymore]. When I am there and when I am playing, I think I’m just really focused on what I can control and just to hit every shot as it is and try not to think about all that external stuff.”

What Lee had enjoyed in the first eight months of 2023 was the hype surrounding the major events in women’s golf – the five majors and September’s Solheim Cup in Spain. The US Women’s Open, where Lee was defending champion, travelled to Pebble Beach for the first time. Then the Women’s British Open was held at prestigious Walton Heath in the heathland courses outside London. Two months later, women’s golf soaked up perhaps the most hype ever for the counterpart to the Ryder Cup, thanks in part to a thrilling Solheim Cup in 2021 when Europe won at Inverness Club in Ohio. The 2023 edition lived up to its billing; Spain’s Carlota Ciganda starred on home soil with two of the best shots of her life leading to closing birdies for a clutch win over Nelly Korda that assured Europe of retaining the Solheim Cup at 14-all.

“I don’t think we can really put it into words… I guess everybody really was pushing for this, but I know it’s been quite a long time coming,” Lee says. “I started on tour in 2015 and you fast forward to 2023, there are so many amazing [commercial] partners that have come forward to support women’s golf. We are also trying to go to venues that have more history and the women’s game is trying to carve its own history, too. So many people have worked so hard for us to be in this position [to go to venues like Pebble Beach]. I’m just really grateful, but I also think we deserve it, too. It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling.”

Lee is thrilled for women’s golf coming on in leaps and bounds in 2023, but also points to the bigger picture. Women’s sport has played its way into the mainstream. She uses soccer, and the Australian Matildas specifically, as an example. The Matildas captivated the nation during their epic run into the semi-finals at the 2023 Women’s World Cup held in Australia this past winter.

“I think women’s sport in general all over the world is on an upward trend,” Lee says. “We’re trying to get equal pay [across different sports].”

Lee earned the largest payday to date in women’s golf history, $US1.8 million ($A2.5 million) of the $US10 million ($A14 million) total purse. “But we still have to be appreciative of where we are now and where I can leave the sport when I retire for the younger generation. I think that’s what I’m really looking forward to from my career now.”

Pebble Beach was groundbreaking. Asked which golf clubs are left in the US to dream of hosting a professional women’s event, she points to Augusta National. The home of the Masters, which did not have female members until 2012, has progressed by adding the Augusta Women’s Amateur Championship since 2019. The prestigious women’s tournament concluded with one round at Augusta National on the Saturday before Masters weeks kicks off. Lee has been there twice to support younger brother, DP World Tour winner Min Woo Lee, contest the Masters.

“Watching Min Woo at Augusta, I’ve felt that it would be pretty amazing to play it,” she said. “I don’t know if in my golfing lifetime we will go there for a women’s [professional] event, but hopefully we will in the future. That’d be pretty amazing. The [Augusta] Women’s Amateur, it feels like they’re going in the right direction, but quite not over the line yet for a big women’s professional event. I’m not sure if it would be like turning over a new [leaf] or something. It would be disappointing if it took too long, because just being there is pretty amazing. The vibe is… really special.”

Looking out for little bro

Lee has soaked up every moment of watching her younger brother break out on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour. The 25-year-old has earned four top-10s worldwide this year, three of which came on the PGA Tour where he is a Special Temporary Member. He played in the final group at the Players Championship with eventual winner Scottie Scheffler. He struggled that Sunday at TPC Sawgrass but earned a tie for sixth and won over the crowds with animated celebrations of a rare birdie at the par-3 17th. At the US Open at Los Angeles Country Club, Lee finished tied for fifth for his maiden top-five result at a major. He is also in line for one of 10 PGA Tour cards to be given out to the top 10 not already exempt on the DP World Tour rankings. He sat third at the time of writing.

“I feel like that’s all him, right? Because he put in the work to get himself in that position, and he’s doing really well,” Minjee says. “I love to see it. I think he just eats up that atmosphere, it suits his personality [to be a showman]. He loves to put on a good show for his fans and his supporters. I’m just really proud that he’s done so well this year. I know this is just the start for him and we’re all really enjoying watching his journey.”

Minjee, though, says while she and Min Woo are only two years apart in age, they are miles apart in personality. “You could say I’m the opposite,” she says with a laugh. “We’re really different. I think he’s just really comfortable showing his personality. But I’m just a little bit more introverted and a little more quiet.”

It appears Min Woo, once his PGA Tour card is confirmed, may set up base in Las Vegas, Nevada. He has become close friends with PGA Tour pros based there, such as Collin Morikawa and Kurt Kitayama. Minjee, however, has been based in Dallas, Texas, for several years. Lee moved there in 2016 and plays and practises at TPC Las Colinas.

“This is going into my seventh year in Dallas now,” she says. “It feels like home to me. Dallas is very quiet. So for me, this place really suits me. But the one thing that I would love is to be near the beach, but only because I grew up near the beach in Perth. The weather is pretty good, except for in the summertime,” when all of Texas is extremely hot. “[But] we’re not here, we’re out on tour. I really enjoy the Dallas scene. I think when I really want to go out and have a night out, it’s only 20 minutes. But if I want a quiet night in, it’s very quiet. Dallas is a massive airport, so it’s easy to fly everywhere.”

Lee’s goals over the next year or two are what you’d expect. She wants to earn a 10th career LPGA Tour win, claim a third major championship and make another Olympics after teeing up for Australia in both 2016 in Rio de Janeiro and 2021 in Tokyo.

“I want to win the more majors. I mean, any other majors would be amazing, but the British Open is pretty high on my list. Next year it’s back at the Old Course at St Andrews and winning at the Home of Golf would be pretty cool. I’ve never been to St Andrews. The 2024 Olympics in Paris is really high on my list, so I’ll be preparing for that. Hopefully I can medal.” 

Getty images: Dylan Buell, PHILIPPE DESMAZES, Vaughn Ridley