In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Min Woo Lee reflects on his first European Tour win, his World Golf Championships debut, and being motivated by his peers.
It’s incredible to think that just over a year ago I was writing a blog about narrowly missing out on my European Tour card, staying motivated and enjoying Tour life more. A week later I won for the first time at the ISPS Handa Vic Open to secure my card and last week I played in my first WGC in Florida. In that time Tour life has also changed a lot due to the pandemic. Even now, I’m in America unsure whether I should go back to Australia and do two weeks of quarantine in a hotel before coming back to play tournaments, or if I should stay out here a bit longer.
With everything that has happened since, I feel so fortunate that I won my first event in front of a home crowd in Australia and with my family around. Looking back on it now, it holds even more of a special place in my heart. There weren’t any ropes at the Vic Open so there were fans close by and behind you watching, and at the time it was so easy to take a crowd like that for granted. I really enjoyed that experience, and to secure my card through that event was amazing because it was just a couple of months after that gut punch of losing my card the previous season pretty much by one shot.
I think having my family there was such a big key. We were staying in a house, my mum was cooking breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for the course every day, and it was just good vibes from the get-go. Being around them, having their support, I was just incredibly comfortable that week. I also think a big thing was that I knew the course quite well because I’d played the Vic Open twice before. Because it was windy too, I really had to hit every shot in the bag rather than just the straight shot with every club that every player seems to have. It really helped remind me that one of the reasons I turned professional was because I was good at shaping the ball. That helped my confidence, and I think about that a lot because it was the best golf I’ve ever played in my life, and I think I’m slowly going back to playing that way.
I would love to get to a point where I feel as comfortable on Tour courses as I did that week, although I think when you’re from Australia you really don’t have as much experience playing different courses around the world. I’ve definitely over practiced trying to get comfortable and tired myself out in the past, so I’m definitely still learning and trying to find the balance between working too hard and good preparation for when I’m playing at tournaments. I’m hoping experience over the next couple of years will help with that.
Things changed really quickly in the world after I won, but I tried to make the most of the time off when we had it. When I play golf, and I think this is true with all Australians, I typically don’t really get to go home that much. By the time we got to Oman and Qatar last year I had played a lot of golf too, and I think I was ready for a break, so I went back home for a few months to a strict lockdown – which included staying in hotel quarantine for two weeks. There was definitely a time when I played a lot of Call of Duty and gained a few kgs from eating food and not working out before I came back to play, but I probably needed to put a little mass on so it worked out OK.
Where I live in Perth isn’t a huge touristy place so now it’s almost worth the two weeks of quarantine because you can go out, have dinner without a mask and there are very few restrictions on seeing friends and family. I’m still only 22, and while I love being a golfer, being away so much is tough, so I think it’s important to be able to come back, have a break and regroup.
But the quarantine rules in Australia also make it tougher to come home. I had never played more than four events in a row before last year, then I had six weeks of the UK Swing, and because I was already there it made sense to play. There was no point going home because by the time you quarantine and hang out for a week you have to go back on Tour so it was pretty tough, but at the same time I know how lucky we are to be able to play. I’ve really just been telling myself to play decent when I can, enjoy it, and make the most of the experiences I am getting.
It didn’t really hit me until the end of last year that winning the Vic Open got me into the WGC through the PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit. And then it doesn’t really hit you until you’re at the event playing against the top 50 players in the World. You feel like a little fish in a big pond because you watch these guys every week on TV, and there are not many times as a 22-year-old that you have opportunities to play with the big boys. It was a pretty cool feeling to be there and soak it in, and even beat quite a few of them.
I was actually supposed to be in a completely different group the first two days, but because Patrick Cantlay pulled out I was approached about two hours before my tee time and told I was going to play with Carlos Ortiz and Justin Rose. I was a little nervous but being out there with them really just helped me feel comfortable and like I belonged. I knew Carlos from before but Rosey was really nice to me, we all chatted the whole time, and although we didn’t play our best, we all hung in there. It was a really special experience.
I was proud of how I performed too, especially with my 66 on Saturday. A lot of those guys don’t really know me, so it was nice to have some of them come up to me and say “good round”, because I think they recognised that score at The Concession. It’s a course where if you hit it good off the tee, which I did that day, approach shots aren’t that hard. It just made me realise that if I can keep my head under control, I could be out here playing more WGCs and hopefully Majors.
Keeping my emotions in check is really the biggest key for me to work on, and it’s something I’ve really learnt from watching other players. I’m definitely someone who learns from people I play with, and ask a lot of questions, because I think if you surround yourself with really good players you’ll also become one. Last week I played with Carlos, and he has such a gritty mentality, making up and downs from everywhere and really showcasing the importance of short game. I also played with Justin, Brandon Stone and Max Homa, and it was amazing to see how everyone is just so steady. Even when I first got out on Tour, I noticed that no one really cared if they made bogey, they’d still go to the next hole thinking they can make birdie. It’s still the biggest thing for me not to let the fire get too hot and let one bad hole wreck the way I play.
I’m still learning, but I’m also incredibly motivated to get my World Ranking down right now. You can’t help but be motivated when you see people you’ve played amateur golf with, like Collin Morikawa, play well and win big events. It’s not easy to transition from a good amateur to a good professional incredibly quickly, and I’ve seen my sister (Minjee Lee) and friends Joaquinn Niemann, Matthew Wolff and Collin all win on Tour and have success. That sort of quick success doesn’t happen often, but it’s motivating to have people around you accomplish great things. They are your friends, but they are also competitors, so you can admire them while also wanting to beat them.