Perth’s Min Woo Lee doesn’t strike the kind of imposing figure you may expect from one of golf’s longest drivers. He’s not a 2020 Bryson DeChambeau-style beefcake. Lee looks like he was built for speed. Trim and lean, his total weight hovering in the low 70-kilogram range.
Through two rounds at Los Angeles Country Club, Lee is fifth in the field in driving distance this week, and 12th in strokes gained off the tee. On the 555-yard par-5 16th, the longest par 4 in US Open history, during Lee’s second round at the 2023 US Open, Lee cranked one drive 407 yards (372 metres) – the longest drive of the championship so far.
How does he do it? How does Min Woo Lee generate so much power from such a relatively small frame?
“I don’t know either,” he said after his second-round 65, which leaves him inside the top 10 through 36 holes.
Joking aside, Min Woo says his distance as one of golf’s longest pound-for-pound drivers comes down to a few things.
Learning to use your levers
In order to swing the golf club with any significant speed, you need to create what’s known as “angular momentum”. Golfers do this by using their arms and wrists as a kind of lever system. When you move, extend, hinge then unhinge your wrists, you’re transferring energy your body is creating back into the golf club.
The longer your levers, the more energy and speed you can transfer. It’s why someone no like Ernie Els, or Vijay Singh, could generate so much power while appearing so effortless. It was in part the product of long levers.
Lee may not be a prototypically stocky bomber, but he’s pushing six-feet tall, with a wingspan that’s longer than his total height. A lucky break of the genetic lottery which Lee takes full advantage of: Lee stretches his arms as far away from his body as he can on the backswing, widening his arc as much as he can.
In doing so, Lee stretches the powerful muscles in his arms and shoulders, which allows them to contract forcefully on the downswing. It gives his golf swing a wide-to-narrow look, and helps him to create lots of that angular momentum for maximum speed.
“I have long levers,” he says. “When I was a kid I always played with older people. I wanted to hit it as far as them. I learned I was capable of creating a lot of speed.”
Like most long-hitting golfers, the speed in their swing is the product of things far away from the golf course. Like most golfers, Min Woo Lee didn’t specialise in golf at an early age. It was one of a host of different sports he played growing up, and frankly, it was probably his least favourite.
“I didn’t necessarily love golf until I was about 15. I quit when I was 11 for a year because I thought golf was a boring old men’s sport where you have to wear long pants,” he says. “I played basketball, which I really liked, soccer, football, and taekwondo. I did a lot of sports, a lot of fast-paced sports that I enjoyed much more than golf.”
When he came back to the game, Lee found his swing had more horsepower, which motivated him to find even more, both on the course and in the gym. That’s something he says lots of junior golfers are doing these days, and highly recommends: Swing hard when you’re young, and worry about direction later.
Fast forward a few years, and Min Woo Lee is one of the brightest emerging talents in the game, with all the power he needs – and a chance to win a US Open because of it.