Lee to make Euro debut
The PA’s Mark Garrod looks ahead to Danny Lee’s European debut at Gleneagles this week.
At long last the youngest winner in European Tour history is about to play his first tournament in Europe.
More than six months after he won the Johnnie Walker Classic near Perth in Australia, 19-year-old Danny Lee is at Gleneagles near Perth in Scotland for this week’s Johnnie Walker Championship.
The New Zealander earned himself a two-year Tour exemption with his spectacular victory in February, grabbing four birdies in the last six holes to win by one.
Lee not only took over from South African Dale Hayes as the circuit’s youngest-ever champion, but also became just the second amateur – after Spaniard Pablo Martin at the 2007 Portuguese Open – to triumph.
Turning professional was the obvious next step for the teenager who a year ago eclipsed Tiger Woods as the youngest-ever winner of the US Amateur title, but not surprisingly that was delayed until after he had taken part in The Masters in April.
He hit the headlines there, but not quite in the way he hoped when he turned in 34 in his second round to be level par, one inside the cut mark.
Much as he might not want to, Lee will never forget what happened on the 10th green – six putts from around 10 feet for a quintuple bogey nine.
Shell-shocked by the painful experience, he dropped five more shots in the next four holes and finished with an 81.
“I think I have to learn to putt on fast greens,” he sighed. And this after being given a tip by Ian Poulter a few days earlier to “try and dribble in every putt – it makes it worse if you force it in the hole.”
Lee would have played with his idol Tiger Woods the first two days at the US Open if he had stayed amateur two more months, but he and his advisers felt it was the time to switch to the paid ranks.
He was reported to have signed a £7million deal when he became a stablemate of Woods with the International Management Group and one of the first things they discussed, of course, was where he could and should play.
“I would really love to play in the US events because it’s more exciting – and it’s like every time lots of people is following,” the Korean-born youngster had commented.
“I mean Europe is a great tour too, but I don’t know – I’d like to play in both and see how it goes.”
He got his wish. He received an invitation to the Zurich Classic in New Orleans and he has now played 11 events in the States as a pro.
Lee has made his mark too, finishing seventh in the AT&T National and 13th in the Byron Nelson Championship, but his earnings of US dollars 360,000 (£218,000) would put him only 157th on the PGA Tour money list and that is not yet enough to earn him a card for next season there.
Now he is about to discover how his game stacks up in Europe.
Lee, also entered for next week’s Omega European Masters in Switzerland, tees off on Thursday only 231st on the Order of Merit with less than £30,000 since, as an amateur, he was unable to take the £205,000 first prize in Australia.
His only cheque on the circuit was for his 51st place in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron earlier this month, but his exemption, of course, means he does not have to climb into the top 115 to retain membership.
Lee is one of two amateurs to have won on the circuit this year. In May Shane Lowry stunned everybody as well when he accepted an invitation to his home Irish Open at County Louth and won it after a play-off with England’s Robert Rock.
Lowry was a member of the Britain and Ireland squad for the Walker Cup match in America in two weeks’ time, but he decided to turn professional only a week later.
Again the two-year exemption means there is no pressure on Lowry to finish in the top 115, but naturally he would like to.
Missing the halfway cut in his first three events took the spotlight off the 22-year-old somewhat, but he appears to have settled down now and on Sunday finished 15th at the KLM Open in the Netherlands.
That has lifted Lowry to 184th on the Order of Merit, but the big money tournaments keep on coming.
As they do for Lee. He has been chosen to partner David Smail in the World Cup in November.
With the current struggles of Michael Campbell, the teenager is New Zealand’s second highest-ranked player at 119th and with Smail at 94th it might not not be long before he goes above him too.
Maybe even this week with a Johnnie Walker and Perth double.
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