Aussie teen amateur Minjee Lee is coming into the World Ladies Championship at Mission Hills Haikou in China hot and ready! After two failed starts, the world’s number one amateur has claimed her first pro victory, a breathtaking six-stroke win over Scotland’s Vikki Laing at the Oates Victorian Open two weeks ago.
Next Lee goes up against four of the game’s top-ranked players in the World Ladies Championship at Mission Hills Haikou: Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu, Suzann Pettersen, and Shanshan Feng. They’re all inside the top ten in the world rankings and they’re all stepping up to the first tee intent on winning.
She’ll also play against Vikki Laing again and another rising teen star on the pro golf scene, Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand.
Minjee Lee has a plan and facing off against some of the best in women’s golf doesn’t alter it.
I’d like to finish in the top five. . . That has been my goal for the professional tournaments I’ve played so far and that is what I’m aiming for this week.
Doing the Prep Work
The seventeen-year old has been building toward this opportunity for the past two years. She played her way to the top of the amateur rankings, winning the US Girls’ Junior in 2012 when she was fifteen, then recording back-to-back Australian Women’s Amateur titles in 2013 and 2014.
February was a big month for Lee. She played two Ladies European Tour (LET) events back-to-back, finishing runner-up to Cheyenne Woods at the Volvik RACV Ladies Masters and then in an eleventh place tie at the Women’s Australian Open, before closing out her whirlwind of competition with the Victorian Open victory.
She took a week off, went home and fine-turned her game with her coach, and she feels ready to tee it up again.
Lee’s ambitious, to be sure, but she’s facing some stiff competition at the World Ladies Championship. Minjee Lee will need to dig deep into her mental game to stay even with these four power players.
Shangshang Feng’s world ranked seventh and she’s compiled an impressive resume during her six-year career. She’s the only Chinese player, male or female, to win a major championship, the 2012 LPGA Championship, defeating both Stacy Lewis and Suzanne Pettersen. She’s collected eleven victories on three separate Tours, LPGA, LET, and LPGA of Japan. Feng won the first World Ladies Championship in 2012 and she’s playing on home soil with an enthusiastic fan base.
Lee will play the first two rounds at the World Ladies Championship in the same flight as current world ranked number one, Inbee Park of South Korea, winner of three Majors last year. Park’s been at the top of the world rankings now for forty-seven weeks. Although she’s been winless since her victory last June at the US Women’s Open, she a steady, consistent, driving competitor who wields her putter with laser-like accuracy. With fifteen professional wins, four of them major championships, across two pro Tours, Park always steps up to the tee box with the intention of winning.
Norwegian Suzann Pettersen, defending champ at the World Ladies Championship and world ranked number two, will also challenge Minjee Lee’s game. Pettersen’s a veteran, starting the fourteenth year of her pro career. She’s bringing twenty-one pro victories to the tee box, including 2013 wins at The LPGA Lotte Championship, Safeway Classic, Sunrise LPGA Taiwan, and Evian Masters. Pettersen’s not thinking about Minjee Lee. She’s thinking about Inbee Park, and she’s playing to bump Park off the top of the rankings.
South Korean So Yeon Ryu, world ranked fifth, turned pro at the age of seventeen, Minjee Lee’s age now. She knows how if feels to be a teenager going up against the top dogs. Ryu, too, is a strong player. She’s bringing ten victories on the LPGA and LPGA of Korea Tours to the tee box. Ryu, Park and Pettersen finished the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore last week in a tie for fourth place and the competition among them is palpable.
Taking It In Stride
Minjee Lee may be thinking about the competition she’s facing, but she’s talking about playing conditions: “The course is looking fantastic and I don’t think anyone could ask for anything better than how conditions are right now.” She is also talking about cultural adjustments: “… the language barrier is difficult – I’m fluent in Korean but not Chinese.”
She’s right on target with her mental game, which is where she’ll need to focus if she hopes to achieve her goal, finishing inside the top five. Game on, Minjee! Tee it up!
The US$600,000 Mission Hills World Ladies Championship, organized in conjunction with the China Golf Association and co-sanctioned by the China LPGA and the LET, will begin on Thursday, March 6 on Mission Hills Haikou’s signature Blackstone Course.
If you want to follow Minjee Lee’s progress against the top of the rankings, the third and fourth rounds of the tourney will be streamed live on YouTube 5:30-8:30am GMT (12:00-3:00am Eastern) on Saturday, March 8 and Sunday, March 9.