Lee’s Progress Pleases Mentor Webb
By Hunki Yun, USGA
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Minjee Lee is playing her first U.S. Women’s Open, but she is very familiar with the championship. The 18-year-old amateur has learned about competing in the toughest test in women’s golf from a very good mentor: two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion and fellow Australian Karrie Webb.
As a recipient of the 2013 Karrie Webb Series Scholarship, which is part of Golf Australia’s player-development program, Lee was a guest of Webb’s during last year’s Women’s Open at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y.
“I got the chance to stay with [Webb] at the Open, which is priceless,” said Lee. “It was the best experience ever.”
There was only one downside.
“I was having a great time watching, but I really wanted to be in the field and playing,” said Lee. “So I’m happy that I am here and I just want to play my best.”
At Pinehurst No. 2, Lee has shown that her best can be very, very good. The 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion and No. 1-ranked amateur in the world shot rounds of 70-71 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2.
At the halfway mark of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, she is tied for third, four strokes behind leader Michelle Wie. Lee is just the fourth amateur since 1979 to be third or better halfway through the U.S. Women’s Open.
“I’m happy with my [score],” said Lee. “I think that the pins are playing pretty tough. It is my first [U.S. Open] and I’m in contention, so I can’t ask for anything more, really.”
Playing a difficult course in 95-degree heat, Lee drew on the most important lesson she learned from Webb at Sebonack.
“She’s really, really focused, even just in practice,” said Lee. “That’s what I got most out of the experience.”
At Pinehurst No. 2, Webb displayed that focus and mental toughness to sweat out a second-round 73. After making double bogey-bogey on the 18th and first holes (her ninth and 10th holes of the day), Webb grinded out two birdies to climb back to 3 over and into a tie for 10th.
“Pretty up and down today,” she said. “Things were getting a little out of control there, but I did settle down. But it’s just a tough, long day.”
Webb has a great history in the North Carolina Sandhills. In 1996, she tied for 19th in her first U.S. Women’s Open, at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club. Five years later, when the Open returned to Pine Needles, Webb won the second of back-to-back championships.
Although the Open has shifted 5 miles away to Pinehurst No. 2, Webb’s comfort with the terrain and turf is unchanged.
“I came here a couple of weeks ago, before the men played,” said Webb. “And I loved it as soon as I was here. It does really remind me of Sandbelt golf in Melbourne, where you don't always have a perfect lie, even in the fairway. And you have to be creative around the greens.”
At 39, Webb has performed at a very high level for nearly two decades, and she still has all the tools as she pursues her third Open title.
“Even though the last one was quite a while ago, I’ve done it before,” said Webb. “I know what it takes to do it. And really, for me, I don’t think it's the physical part that I have to worry about; it’s the mental part.
“I’ve got to eliminate some of the mistakes I’ve made. Some soft bogeys.”
Still, Webb is in the top 10, in contention alongside her protégé.
“I grew up looking at her as my idol,” said Lee, “so it’s pretty cool to be up there [on the leader board] with her.”
Webb enjoyed her time with Lee last year, and it was her idea to make a trip to the U.S. Women’s Open a part of the scholarship.
“It’s been great,” said Webb, who funds the scholarship, which was started in 2008. “I love it. I thought that these kids need to see the U.S. Open. This is the biggest event. This is what they need to come to.
“I’ve gotten as much out of it as they have. It gives me a fresh perspective, like someone seeing it for the first time. They’re my friends, and it’s great to watch their careers grow. I want to be a part of that.”
It is clear that Webb is very familiar with her protégés. When asked about Lee’s performance, Webb replied, “She probably told you that she’s not playing well.”
Webb was spot on; after her first-round 70, Lee said she felt she was playing with her B game.
Webb is also keeping tabs on Stephanie Na, who was one of the first two scholarship recipients. As she was signing her scorecard, Webb scanned the leader board for Na’s position.
“I looked up to see that she needs to par in to make the cut,” said Webb [Na bogeyed her last two holes to miss by one]. “So I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”
Hunki Yun is the USGA’s director of strategic projects. Email him at email@example.com.
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