U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Green, Lee Following in Footsteps of Decorated Siblings
July 18, 2016 | Ooltewah, Tenn.
By David Shefter, USGA
Galven Kendall Green and Min Woo Lee didn’t have far to look for golf inspiration. All the motivation they needed was right inside their own family.
Minjee Lee, a two-time LPGA Tour winner and 2016 Olympian for Australia, won the U.S. Girls’ Junior four years ago. Gavin Kyle Green, who won eight times during a decorated four-year career at the University of New Mexico, also is headed to Rio de Janeiro next month to represent Malaysia, nabbing the field’s 60th and final spot.
This week at The Honors Course, however, Galven and Min Woo will be looking to create some of their own history in the 69th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. In Lee’s case, he is hoping join his big sister on a USGA trophy and become the first brother-sister combo to win USGA Junior championships. Hank (1998) and Kelli (1994 and 1995) Kuehne won their respective U.S. Amateur titles, while brother Trip claimed the 2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur.
Two sets of sisters and five other brother combinations have also claimed USGA titles.
“That’s motivating,” said Min Woo Lee, who is competing in his first USGA championship. “I really want to make history. That would be awesome. It’s probably the biggest junior tournament in the world and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.”
Given the 15-hour time difference between Daly City, Calif. (site of 2012 Girls’ Junior) and Perth, Australia (Lee’s hometown), it was logistically challenging for Min Woo to closely monitor Minjee’s triumph over Alison Lee at Lake Merced Golf Club. He occasionally checked the internet for results, but “I wasn’t really focused on it,” he said.
Min Woo, after all, had his own game to take seriously. He actually was the first sibling to play, at age 8, but it was Minjee, who also was a standout swimmer, who showed the most potential. Almost immediately after first swinging a club, Minjee’s handicap dropped precipitously and she started winning regional events. At first, Min Woo tagged along with Minjee to the park or course to practice, but eventually his sister shooed him away, preferring to practice alone.
“She likes to do her own thing,” he said Sunday prior to playing his only practice round for the U.S. Junior Amateur. “I would always ask her, ‘How did you do that?’ And she would just say, go away.”
Min Woo caddied for Minjee once, in the Australian Women’s Amateur, but that partnership didn’t last long. While pushing the cart for his sister, he said he performed cartwheels in the fairway to show off to his buddies, and was eventually “fired” by Minjee late in a match in which she was 4 down with 5 to play.
“She took the bag herself,” said Min Woo of Minjee, who won consecutive Australian Women’s Amateur titles in 2013 and 2014.
Since Minjee turned professional after the 2014 Women’s World Amateur Team Championship, Min Woo hasn’t seen her much. Minjee travels with their mother, Clara, on the LPGA Tour, while Min Woo has remained in western Australia with his father, Soo Nam. Last week in San Diego, Min Woo was reunited with his sister while competing in the IMG Academy Junior World Championship at Torrey Pines, where he tied for seventh. Minjee, taking a one-week respite from the LPGA Tour, came down from CordeValle, where she tied for 46th in the U.S. Women’s Open.
Nevertheless, Min Woo, who turns 18 on July 27, has watched from afar what Minjee has accomplished in the last five years and wants to follow in the same footsteps. Last year, Min Woo won the Western Australian Amateur, and the Aaron Baddeley International Junior Championship at La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, Calif., by five strokes, shooting 17 under. The latter victory earned Lee an exemption into the 2016 Australian Open this November at Royal Sydney, where he’ll compete against the likes of 2015 U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth and world No. 1 Jason Day.
In April, he was the runner-up in the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley, a prestigious event in Graniteville, S.C. Prior to the event, Lee was launching some massive drives at the back of the driving range when a couple of notable professionals took notice. Lee is known in the junior circles for being a long hitter and a few of his 300-plus yard drives quickly caught the eye of Notah Begay, who was at the event to help conduct a clinic.
Lee overheard Begay say something to the other luminary in attendance. Suddenly, nine-time USGA champion Tiger Woods had his eyes on the lanky Aussie.
“[Begay] was shocked that I was hitting it so long,” said Lee. “I got nervous. I could overhear Notah telling Tiger to come over here. It was pretty scary. All the kids started to bunch around Tiger while I was hitting balls.”
Woods’ status in the game is not lost on Lee, who knows Tiger won three consecutive U.S. Juniors from 1991-93, and he’d certainly like to add his name on the silver trophy that was on display inside The Honors Course clubhouse.
Green also is aware of what he’s playing for this week. It’s a championship older brother Gavin never competed in, which gives Galven some bragging rights. Although six years apart – Galven is 16 and Gavin is 22 – the brothers enjoy a friendly rivalry. It started with putting contests at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club and slowly progressed from there. Galven finally beat Gavin for the first time last year, an accomplishment that brought a wide grin from the younger Green.
Galven, however, still has a way to go to catch Gavin’s impressive amateur résumé that includes the 2012 Malaysian Open Amateur, the first by a Malaysian in 15 years. Gavin also remains the youngest to compete in an Asian Tour event, having played the Iskandor Johor Open at 13. At New Mexico, Gavin was a three-time All-America selection and the 2015 Mountain West Conference Player of the Year. He won the Sun Bowl Western Refining All-America Classic in consecutive years (2013-14), an invitation-only event for the top college golfers.
When Galven mentioned that he won the Malaysia Closed Amateur in 2014, Gavin quickly reminded his younger sibling that he accomplished the feat three times (2008, 2009 and 2011). Gavin also advanced to the Round of 32 in two of his three U.S. Amateur appearances: 2012 at Cherry Hills Country Club and 2013 at The Country Club.
And if playing in the shadow of that portfolio wasn’t enough, Galven will continue to hear about the exploits of big brother when he enrolls at New Mexico in the fall of 2017.
New Mexico coach Glen Millican didn’t need much of a recruiting pitch to lure Galven, who relishes the chance to follow in Gavin’s footsteps.
“It is tough,” said Galven, adding that his goal is to better his brother’s record.
Already it’s been an impressive summer for the younger Green, a member of the Malaysian national team. Galven captured the Southern Junior at the University of Texas Golf Club in mid-June, and tied for 39th in the Greystone Invitational in Alabama against a field of juniors, amateurs and mid-amateurs.
“That week was something that I did not expect,” said Green of the Southern Junior victory.
While he missed the 54-hole cut in last week’s Junior World Championship at Torrey Pines, Galven comes into the Junior Amateur feeling confident. Two years ago, he competed in the biennial Junior Open Championship at West Lancashire Golf Club a few days prior to The Open Championship at Hoylake, so he’s already been on the big stage. He’s also played in major events in Asia, including the 2016 Malaysian Open Amateur, where he tied for 13th.
It also doesn’t hurt to have Gavin on his bag. Gavin took a break from the Asian Development Tour – he’s won twice this year – to caddie, and having that experience on the bag is invaluable. Gavin, who will join countryman Danny Chia in the first Olympic golf event in 104 years, has offered wisdom in terms of course management.
“It’s fun being out there with him,” said Galven. “He tells me where to hit and aim, and stuff to do and not to do. He’s helped quite a bit. We should be good to go.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.