Minjee Lee has enjoyed a solid career on the LPGA Tour so far but she’s failed to make her presence felt at the majors. Can she break that sequence and claim The Evian Championship this week?
The Supermarine Spitfire was perhaps the most iconic fighter plane to ever grace the skies. Its manoeuvrability, firepower and stamina have become the stuff of legend. But it wasn’t always this way. Initially the plane would overheat whenever it was asked to perform in front of the Air Ministry. It took years of perseverance and ingenuity before it ultimately became the hero of the Battle of Britain.
My grandfather used to tell me that story whenever I got impatient. “Good things take time,” was the message.
Minjee Lee has played on the LPGA Tour since 2015. The 22-year-old from Perth has lifted four trophies, earned more than US$4 million and posted 36 top-10 finishes in that time. But she has constantly failed to fire (by her own admission) at the majors. In fact, the World No.6 has only produced three top-10s from her 23 starts on the biggest of stages.
“I probably haven’t quite performed as well as I wanted to over the past couple years in the majors,” Lee said during the ANA Inspiration earlier this year.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The Evian Championship will this week present Lee with another opportunity to break her maiden and complete Australia’s major championship jigsaw puzzle.
The tournament, played in south-eastern France, earned major status in 2013 and has alluded our Aussie players ever since. Karrie Webb came closest to winning it when she finished runner-up to Hyo Joo Kim in 2014 – and Katherine Kirk gave us fresh hope when she finished T3 last year. Lee, meanwhile, hasn’t managed to crack the top-10 in her four attempts.
We’re one of the proudest nations on the planet when it comes to sport. So it’s sometimes difficult to comprehend why our highest-ranked female golfer is yet to capture one of the five major championships on offer – especially when you consider every other player currently inside the world’s top-10 has already achieved that feat.
It’s hard to fault Lee’s game on paper. She’s ranked third on Tour for her scoring average (69.67), first for sand saves (62%), ninth for greens in regulation (73.98%) and better than average for both her distance (39th) and accuracy (40th) off the tee.
So what does she need to do to break into the major winner’s circle?
Firstly, let’s not forget that Webb didn’t capture her first major until she was 24. It’s also important to consider we’re currently witnessing the byproduct of the influence players like Webb and Annika Sorenstam had on young golfers all around the world.
Se Ri Pak is another story altogether. Her achievements and what they’ve meant to Asia have helped the region become the fastest-growing continent in world golf. We, of course, have the well-publicised rise of the South Koreans, who continue to dominate the pointy end of the world rankings. But we also have the Jutanugarns of Thailand and Shanshan Feng of China, with plenty more waiting in the wings.
When the world rankings were introduced 12 years ago there were only three players from Asia scraping into the top-10. As of today there are only three players inside the top-10 without Asian heritage.
“My ultimate goal is to have a Grand Slam. ”But you can’t have a Grand Slam without winning major events.” – Minjee Lee
So there’s no doubting the competition is stiff. It’s harder than ever to conquer the majors and only one player – Ariya Jutanugarn – has won multiple major titles in the past three years.
Another side to the argument is that Lee gets stage fright. There’s growing concern she struggles to close out tournaments – and it stems from her tendency to throw in one poor round whenever she looks close to winning.
Her recent results are prime examples. Lee finished fourth at the Portland Classic two weeks ago but shot a five-over-par 77 in the final round. While it was a similar story four weeks earlier on the other side of the Atlantic, where she was just three shots behind heading into the final round of the Women’s British Open before signing for a three-over-par 75.
The notion Lee fails to convert her top-10s into victories seems plausible. That is until you consider her strike rate is currently a tick over 11 percent. Compare that to someone
like Webb (19 percent) and she’s not doing so badly.
Lee’s hunger certainly can’t be questioned, either. She’s had her eyes fixed firmly on the majors for years.
“My ultimate goal is to have a Grand Slam,” Lee said after winning the Blue Bay LPGA in 2016. “So I think that’s always what I’ll be working towards. But you can’t have a Grand Slam without winning major events.”
The pressure must be immense. Not only from herself but from her supporters and the media, too.
The competition is stronger than ever. She’s only been on Tour for four years. She’s only 22. She’s a fighter. Good things take time.
AUSSIES AT THE EVIAN
HANNAH GREEN (WA)
APPEARANCES/BEST: Debut. N/A.
WORLD RANKING: 123.
Green probably isn’t fully satisfied with her rookie year on Tour – but she has gained valuable experience and another major championship start will only add to that.
SARAH KEMP (NSW)
APPEARANCES/BEST: Three. T67 (2014).
WORLD RANKING: 292.
Kemp has played predominantly in Europe, Asia and Australia in 2018, highlighted by her runner-up finish at the Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco.
KATHERINE KIRK (QLD)
APPEARANCES/BEST: Three. T3 (2017).
WORLD RANKING: 69.
Kirk isn’t in the greatest form but she will return to France filled with confidence after last year’s efforts. She was just one shot out of the play-off.
SU OH (VIC)
APPEARANCES/BEST: Three. T14 (2017).
WORLD RANKING: 68.
Oh arrives fresh off back-to-back top-10s in Portland and Canada and, like Kirk, will be champing at the bit after her performance at the Evian last year.
SARAH-JANE SMITH (QLD)
APPEARANCES/BEST: Five. T30 (2016).
WORLD RANKING: 87.
Smith has put in massive performances at the majors in 2018, finishing T5 at the Women’s US Open and T11 in the Women’s PGA Championship. Here’s hoping she repeats the dose this week.