U.S. Amateur Champ Lee Soaking Up Masters Experience, Wants More


April 8, 2009

By Dave Shedloski

As he sheds his amateur label after this weekend, Danny Lee is focused on becoming the best pro he can be. (John Mummert/USGA)
Augusta, Ga. - Reigning U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee is a study in contrasts as he prepares for his debut in the Masters Tournament, which begins Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club.

Lee, 18, the second-youngest player in the field of 96 competitors, has already declared the 73rd Masters Tournament his final event as an amateur. No surprise given that his game has continued to blossom since his impressive victory in the 108th U.S. Amateur last August at Pinehurst No. 2. Proof can be offered in the form of his European Tour victory in the Johnnie Walker Classic in Perth, Australia earlier this year, which made him the youngest winner in the tour's history.

But whether the New Zealand youth is ready for bigger things isn't clear on the eve of the year's first major, for which he earned an invite thanks to his 5-and-4 win over Drew Kittleson last August at Pinehurst. The kid who supplanted Tiger Woods as the youngest Amateur champion sent some mixed signals when he met with the media Tuesday at Augusta National.

Lee looks ahead to new challenges as a professional, but at the same time, he is struggling with other challenges that come with the transition.

"I just wanted to play on a different level of golf, and I think as an amateur, I've done everything," said Lee, one of three teenagers in the Masters field, of his decision to get going as a touring professional and forgo defending his Amateur crown this summer at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., not to mention giving up his exemption into the U.S. Open in June. "Winning the U.S. Amateur and winning the Western Amateur and winning the professional event as an amateur … I want to play [on a] harder level and more competitive golf."

It won't get much harder than Augusta National - and the difficulty for Lee extends beyond merely managing his game on the famed golf course. He's looking forward to being a pro golfer, but isn't quite ready for all that comes with it. He admits that. But, then, who is ever really ready for their first Masters?

"I'm having really bad nerves at the moment, seriously," admitted Lee, wearing a Masters sweater to ward off the unseasonably cold Georgia weather. "All of the crowds yesterday, I was nervous, really shaking my clubs, and wasn't swinging properly. I've never seen that many crowds out there, and, you know … one of the greatest players playing in this tournament.

"I'm still nervous, and I'm trying to relax every time and trying to practice hard and see how it goes.

"When I get nervous, I can't really talk properly, because my nerves are breaking down, and I'm having a stomach ache, too. I'm serious," added Lee, who faced only a handful of reporters per day as he marched to his Amateur victory. "I'm trying to relax and trying to calm myself every time, but I know as soon as I go outside the clubhouse and watch all of those crowds out there, I cannot get relaxed or like nice and calm like that. But I'm still working on it."

He's also working on his game. In the wake of his European Tour victory, Lee decided to change his swing, dissatisfied by his follow-through. A conversation with Won Joon Lee (who is coached by Butch Harmon) during the Johnnie Walker prompted Lee to alter his swing. He was one of the last players to leave the range Monday night as he continued to refine things.

"My game is coming around," he said. "I'm working on it."

Lee, who teed off at 1:41 p.m. EDT with defending champion Trevor Immelman and Adam Scott , said he wasn't sure if he would have the game to contend this week, but despite his young age he made a veteran move in hiring a club caddie, Matt Fuzy, who is in his seventh year as a bag carrier at Augusta National. Fuzy, 27, is one of three club caddies on the job this week.

"It's a dream come true, man. I still can't believe it," Fuzy told reporters on Tuesday.

Playing in the Masters is a dream come true for Lee, and he hasn't lost sight of what an opportunity this week presents, whatever the outcome. He already has plenty of highlights, from staying in the Crow's Nest, the traditional lodging in the clubhouse for amateur participants, to getting a putting tip from Ian Poulter, to rubbing shoulders with legends.

"Meeting all of the greatest players in the world, and like I met Gary Player a couple of days ago and he was a really nice guy and he encouraged me to practice harder," Lee said. "He said I've got the greatest golf swing in the world, so I'm really believing in that.

Well, there was one other benefit - potentially.

"I'm sleeping where Tiger [Woods] slept, so that might help me play better," he said.

Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.usga.org.

  





Partner Links
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image
Chevron
   

The USGA and Chevron have committed to using the game of golf to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. This commitment has led to the creation of extensive golf-focused STEM teaching tools, and has resulted in charitable contributions to support golf-related programs through Eagles for Education™

At U.S. Open Championships the Chevron STEM ZONE™ is an interactive experience highlighting the science and math behind the game of golf through a variety of hands-on exhibits and experiments.

The partnership has also produced educational materials such as the Science of Golf video series and a nationally-distributed newspaper insert which are provided to teachers as tools to enhance existing curriculum in schools. These lessons teach the science behind the USGA’s equipment testing, handicapping, and agronomy efforts.

For more interactive experiences featuring golf-focused STEM lessons, visit the partnership homepage.


Chevron image
Rolex
   

Rolex has been a longtime supporter of the USGA and salutes the sportsmanship and great traditions unique to the game. This support includes the Rules of Golf where Rolex has partnered with the USGA to ensure golfers understand and appreciate the game.

As the official timekeeper of the USGA and its championships, they also provide clocks throughout host sites for spectator convenience.

For more information on Rolex and their celebration of the game, visit the Rolex and Golf homepage.



Rolex image
IBM
   

IBM has partnered with the USGA to bring the same technology, expertise, and innovation it provides to businesses all over the world to the USGA and golf's national championship.

IBM provides the information technology to develop and host the U.S. Open’s official website, www.usopen.com, as well as the mobile apps and scoring systems for the three U.S. Open championships. These real-time technology solutions provide an enhanced experience for fans following the championship onsite and online.

For more information on IBM and the technology that powers the U.S. Open and businesses worldwide, visit http://www.usopen.com/IBM

AmEx image
Lexus
   

Lexus is committed to partnering with the USGA to deliver a best-in-class experience for the world’s best golfers by providing a fleet of courtesy luxury vehicles for all USGA Championships.

At each U.S. Open, Women’s Open and Senior Open, Lexus provides spectators with access to unique experiences ranging from the opportunity to have a picture taken with both the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open trophies to autograph signings with legendary Lexus Golf Ambassadors in the Lexus Performance Drive Pavilion.

For more information on Lexus, visit http://www.lexus.com/

AmEx image
American Express
   

Together, American Express and the USGA have been providing world-class service to golf fans since 2006. By creating interactive U.S. Open experiences both onsite and online, American Express enhances the USGA’s effort to make the game more accessible and enjoyable for fans.

For more information on American Express visit www.americanexpress.com/entertainment


AmEx image