Dan The Man
Danny Lee Was A Birdie Machine In Becoming
The Youngest-Ever Winner Of The U.S. Amateur
2008 Championship Annual: The Year In Review
By Craig Smith, USGA
|In spite of this woe on a green, Drew Kittleson said it "was kind of fun to watch" Lee's performance. (John Mummert/USGA|
Danny Lee was the last player to arrive at the U.S. Amateur Championship in the Village of Pinehurst, N.C. He also was the last to leave.
The 18-year-old from New Zealand had been so busy with his golf that he hadn't been home in three months. Not that his travels hadn't been worthwhile. Lee had won the Western Amateur Championship in Michigan in August — he also was medalist in stroke-play qualifying at that event — and had made the most of a sponsor's exemption into the PGA Tour's Wyndham Championship, just two hours away from Pinehurst in Greensboro, N.C. There he shot four consecutive rounds under par and finished tied for 20th. For the money managers among us, that would have won him a check for $55,236 except there was this thing called the U.S. Amateur looming the following week, and that was first on the list.
Lee arrived in Pinehurst just in time to get a good night's sleep before taking on the world's best amateur golfers without the benefit of even one practice round.
Then he waxed them — or at least those who had to go up against him. He breezed through two rounds of stroke play, and then put his game in high gear. In the five matches leading up to the 36-hole championship final, he trailed only once — for one hole — and never was he extended beyond the 15th hole.
The one issue Lee had was a sore left shoulder believed to have been hurt on the driving range Friday morning. That wasn't a surprise, in that Lee had played for 13 days straight. After his quarterfinal victory over Morgan Hoffmann, of Saddle Brook, N.J., he was taken to nearby Moore Regional Hospital for X-rays. Nothing serious. "I think it's just a muscle that got a little bit bruised," said Lee.
After dispatching Patrick Reed, 3 and 2, in his semifinal, Lee became the youngest Amateur champion in the event's 113-year history by beating Drew Kittleson, 19, of Scottsdale, Ariz., 5 and 4. One month past his 18th birthday, Lee was six months younger than Tiger Woods was in 1994, when Woods won the first of his three consecutive Amateur titles. "I don't think I can play better than this," Lee said afterward. "I
really can't believe it."
He wasn't the only one. Lee was the equivalent of 11 under par (13 birdies, two bogeys) over the 32 holes played in the final on the 7,281-yard, par-70 Pinehurst No. 2 layout that has hosted two U.S. Opens in the last 10 years. It was only three short years ago that fellow Kiwi Michael Campbell won the U.S. Open here with a 72-hole total of even par. To put that in context, Lee played virtually the same setup — only it was longer.
Kittleson wasn't shabby either — when the final finished he was the match-play equivalent
of five under par. "Now that I look at it," said Kittleson, "usually I'm not the guy who would be so happy for the other guy when that's happening. But it was kind of fun to watch. What are you going to do?"
Lee started slowly, but took the lead in the final for good with a birdie on the 10th hole of the morning round. He finished with a winning birdie — surprise, surprise — on the 468-yard par-4 14th on No. 2, where he just happened to pour in a 35-foot putt.
"I was just having a really, really good week," said Lee, who took just 43 putts over his 32 holes in the final. "Everything I hit, everything I putted, just fell into the hole."
A native of Korea who moved to New Zealand and learned the game from his mother, who's a teaching professional, Lee now is looking forward to playing in next year's U.S. Open where he'll be paired, as is tradition, with defending champion Tiger Woods. Asked about his prospects, Lee replied, "I'm going to beat him" — and given his performance at Pinehurst, well, you never know. He also is likely to be given an invitation to play in next year's Masters, should he stay an amateur, a difficult decision he'll have to make.
Lee is the fourth foreign player to have won the Amateur in the last six years, the others having been Nick Flanagan of Australia in 2003, Eduardo Molinari of Italy in 2005 and Richie Ramsay of Scotland in 2006.
But when all was done, Lee had to head off for the long trip home to New Zealand to reunite with his family — and his best friend, his dog.
Which, by the way, is named "Birdie." This article first appeared in the 2008 Championship Annual, a special publication mailed to USGA Members in November.