| ||U.S. Amateur Champ Lee Soaking Up
Masters Experience, Wants More|
April 8, 2009
By Dave Shedloski
Augusta, Ga. - Reigning U.S. Amateur champion
is a study in contrasts as he prepares for his debut in the
Masters Tournament, which begins Thursday at Augusta National
|As he sheds his amateur label after
this weekend, Danny Lee is focused on becoming the best
pro he can be. (John Mummert/USGA)|
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
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
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 â€¦ I want to play [on a] harder level and more
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
"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 â€¦ 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
"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.