Lee, born only a month after Barty, has traipsed the world in another sport with global appeal. But a couple of years ago she could barely rub two dollars together from her local sponsorship, despite being a magnet for big business in Asia.
The 26-year-old walked up the 18th fairway en route to the most ruthless US Open win you could imagine in North Carolina on Monday morning (AEST) wearing a Korean exchange bank as the main logo on her hat. There were countless other Asian-based sponsors on her apparel.
“She looks like a Formula One driver with patches everywhere,” laughs WPGA Tour of Australasia chief executive Karen Lunn. “We could use her so much more if she was better with the media and sponsors, but she really doesn’t have to care.
“She really is a genuinely very nice person, it’s just very hard to get to know her. For Minjee, it’s very much about her golf. I’ve seen her at tournaments and how hard she works on her golf, then she’ll go do the gym stuff and work harder than anyone I’ve seen.
“But I have to say, I’ve never seen her as happy as [Monday] morning. She was really over the moon.”
Lee’s an introvert and happily admits it. Maybe it’s why she’s one of Australia’s most underappreciated sports stars. She doesn’t let herself be vulnerable in the public spotlight.
Ask others what her hobbies are, and you’re unlikely to hear much more than reading books and watching television. After going home on a three-shot lead after the third round of the US Open, she watched Golf Channel – because she wanted to.
Her Korean parents Soonam and Clara Lee moved to Western Australia more than two decades ago and raised their family in Perth, only encouraging Minjee to pursue golf after her mother became a teaching professional at a driving range. The family also ran a cafe.
Her younger brother Min Woo, a professional golfer himself who made his Masters debut last month after winning the Scottish Open last year, has a favorite saying.
“If Minjee’s life is like a straight line, then mine is like a squiggle,” he says.
In April, two-time Olympian Minjee caddied for Min Woo at the traditional Par-3 Masters contest at Augusta National and looked like just another face in the crowd, not the former world No.1 amateur who has strangled every ounce out of her ability by doggedly honing her craft.
On Monday, her younger brother had tears in his eyes and called his sister during the trophy presentation as she became just the sixth Australian golfer to win more than one major, joining Karrie Webb, Peter Thomson, Jan Stephenson, David Graham and Greg Norman.
With the largest-ever purse on the line in women’s golf, Lee (-13) was ruthless.
She made birdie on her first two holes in the final round, saw her lead swell to six shots at one stage, and then even had the chance to laugh at a dolly of a par putt miss on the last to still beat America’s Mina Harigae ( -9) by four shots thanks to a final round 71.
“This is pretty special,” Lee says. “I’m speechless. This is the one I’ve always wanted to win since I was a little kid. It’s pretty amazing to be able to get it done today. I just can’t believe it.
She wants the trophy. She wants to beat you, she wants to beat your friend, and she wants to beat everyone else
“I think this will be huge for all the little girls and children watching. Hopefully, they can watch me on TV and I can be a good role model for them and they’ll start getting more involved.”
Lee’s swing has consistently been voted as the best on the WPGA Tour, but like compatriot Adam Scott, has never really soared to even greater heights because she wasn’t as efficient with her putter.
That was until this week, when Smith said he’d changed his grip and reverted to a childhood putter, recently curing a case of what he admits was bordering on the yips.
For the record, world No.4 Lee says she’s won’t be retiring yet.
She could if she wanted to, a $2.5 million check certainly helps, but it’s about much more than that as she chases Barty’s own record of three grand slams in a sport with worldwide interest.
“She doesn’t give a s— about money,” Smith says. “She wants the trophy. She wants to beat you, she wants to beat your friend, and she wants to beat everyone else.
“But she’ll do it with a smile on her face, and she’ll do it with respect.
“I think she’s already leaving a legacy. Female golf has improved because of her, and I know she just wants to be a really good role model. She wants to be a good golfer, but she wants to be a good person too. She probably hasn’t worked out exactly how to do that, but that’s her goal.
“I can’t tell you what she’s going to do, but I can tell you this: she’ll do what she wants, rather than what everyone else wants.”
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