WEST Australian star Minjee Lee cruised to a four-shot victory at last month’s US Women’s Open, taming the stunning Pine Needles course in North Carolina and taking home an astonishing US$1.8m (AUD$2.5m) prize cheque.

Apart from claiming the largest ever prizemoney cheque ever handed out in the history of women’s golf, Minjee’s win was also incredibly significant for a number of reasons:

• She joined Jan Stephenson and her mentor Karrie Webb in becoming just the third Australian woman in history to win the US Women’s Open;

• She became the sixth Australian to win multiple major championships joining Karrie (7) Peter Thomson (5) Stephenson (3) Greg Norman (2) and David Graham (2); 

• She broke the US Women’s Open all-time 72-hole scoring record previously set by Juli Inkster in 1999; and

• She joined an illustrious group of LPGA players – Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Cristie Kerr – to win the US Women’s Open at Pine Needles.

In recent years we have been spoiled celebrating our female major champions, however until Hannah Green’s win at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 2019, we had suffered a 13-year drought in terms of major winners in women’s golf. 

Hannah’s became the first Aussie woman to win a major since Karrie’s victory at the 2006 Kraft Nabisco Championship – her seventh and final major title.

We then witnessed Minjee win the Amundi Evian Championship in 2021when she broke the unfortunate label as the ‘best player in the game not to have won a major’.

Minjee Lee. Photo courtesy USGA.

This year watching Minjee in total command and being able to enjoy the walk down the 18th fairway, knowing she was assured of victory took me back to 2001. Back then I stood behind the green watching Karrie do precisely the same thing when she cruised to a US Women’s Open victory. 

There were a few other similarities between Karrie and Minjee’s US Women’s Open wins … they were both 26 at the time of the wins and both won convincingly. 

The biggest difference was the size of the winner’s cheque. Karrie’s collected US$520,000 while Minjee took home US$1.28m more than that this year.

Karrie has played a huge role in Minjee’s career as she has done with many of our younger players including Hannah Green and Su Oh. 

Minjee won the Karrie Webb Series in 2013 and 2014. A part of that experience was that Minjee travelled to the US Women’s Opens in both years with Karrie to shadow her – to watch her practice and prepare for the event and then to watch the tournament live. 

How crucial those experiences were to Minjee no one will ever know, however I do know that Karrie never left anything to chance and she was the best strategist I have ever seen on the golf course. So, no doubt some incredibly valuable lessons were tucked away for future reference by Minjee during her experiences. 

After Minjee’s win Karrie spoke of how proud she was of her protégé, “so bloody proud” was her Instagram post!

Karrie said the win would give Minjee the belief to take on Jin Young Ko and Nelly Korda for that coveted world No.1 mantle on the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

“She (Minjee) is going to believe she truly has what it takes to be the game’s dominant player and that’s a frightening scenario for her competition, given the way she is swinging it. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure if she really had that feeling before this performance.”

I think Minjee is actually now starting to believe how good she is.

Her second major win couldn’t have been much more different from winning the Amundi Evian Championship, where she defeated former US Open Champion Jeongeun Lee6 in the playoff.

At Pine Needles, Minjee was firmly in control for much of the final two rounds despite having to deal with the pressure of playing in the final group. That can be really exhausting.

Minjee admitted that she felt extremely nervous during the final round and that at times her legs felt like “jelly”.

For someone who is normally cool, calm and collected, this stark admission showed just how much was on the line, and this wasn’t about the money at all, this was about fulfilling a lifelong dream of winning the US Women’s Open.

When Minjee won the US Junior Girls Championship in 2012 at the age of 16, she was asked if she thought there would be more championships ahead of her. She replied: “Definitely yes, I am coming … I have worked my whole life for this.”

In Minjee’s media conference after her victory she said the win was incredibly special as “this is the one that I have always wanted to win since
I was a little kid”. Little girls can have big dreams! 

I would like to acknowledge the USGA and in particular its CEO Mike Whan, former commissioner of the LPGA Tour, for upping the ante this year and increasing the prizemoney from US5.5 million to the US$10 million.

Mike transformed the LPGA Tour in so many ways during his 11-year tenure. I’m sure his move to the USGA just over a year ago in some way at least contributed to the significant prizemoney increase. 

About Karen Lunn

Karen Lunn is the CEO of the APLG.

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