Three-time LPGA champion Mirim Lee is looking forward to her return to the Kia Classic for her love of Mexican food (minus the cilantro) and the chance to defend her lone 2017 LPGA title.
Lee, currently ranked No. 23 in the world, is also planning to enjoy the week in Carlsbad with her parents who will make the journey from Korea to watch her play.
“I’m really excited because my parents weren’t there last year to watch me win but they’re coming out this year. I think we’ll just do some sightseeing while they’re here,” Lee said.
Lee’s Kia Classic victory last season ended a two-year dry spell since she grabbed two titles her rookie year in 2014. Her first win at the 2014 Meijer LPGA Classic came down to the wire in a playoff against fellow countrywoman Inbee Park, where she managed to birdie the second extra hole. Lee’s second victory wasn’t too long after at the 2014 Reignwood LPGA Classic in China, where she shot a final-round 69 to overcome third-round leader Stacy Lewis.
Since her stellar debut, Lee was itching for another win but kept coming up just short. Close-call was the name of the game for her 2015 and 2016 seasons; her top-five finishes in the 2016 majors including the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (T4) and Ricoh Women’s British Open (T2) were particularly tough for her mentally.
“I think I did really well and I didn’t really think about winning. I just focused on doing my best and I was pretty happy with the results,” Lee said, “But it was honestly a little difficult. It was tiring and frustrating, but I overcame that and then that’s how I was able to win the Kia Classic.”
Lee managed to stay positive and finally struck gold at Aviara Country Club after her long fight to return to the winner’s circle. On talking about the course, she said, “If you don’t hit the right shots off the tee then the roughs are pretty tough so I really focused on driving accuracy. Since that was my main focus, that opened up a lot of shots for me on the green.”
She felt more comfortable as she climbed the leaderboard and was finally satisfied with the win.
“Because it had been a while since I won, I didn’t really know what to think. I have no idea. I was just really happy."
Watching the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Lee became nostalgic and wished she could be at home to cheer on the Korean women’s short track speedskating team. “It’s such an honor for Korea to host the [Winter] Olympics. We, Koreans, are so honored.”
On the Tour front, Lee is happy to be playing professionally and truly owes it to her experience playing in the United States for her love of the game. “I’ve learned a lot about the game of golf, much more than I did in Korea. My game has gotten better since then too.”
Lee has set her sights high coming back from her 2018 season, and placed T26 in her debut at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic. “The season came up pretty quick but I’ve been practicing a lot. I want to be more consistent at the top, have more top-10 finishes.” She added, “I want to win a major this year.”
She will be playing the Bank of Hope Founders Cup before her fifth Kia Classic appearance.