August 2012 marked Minjee Lee’s first big splash onto the international golf scene. The Australian teen captured the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at Lake Merced Golf Club, host of this week’s LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship. That win set the stage for an elite amateur career that saw her capture multiple Australian Women’s Amateur titles, win the ALPG Tour’s Oates Victorian Open (now the LPGA Tour’s ISPS Handa Vic Open) and ascend to No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
Fast forward nearly seven years and Lee returns to Lake Merced as the newly minted No. 2 player in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. Fresh off a win at last week’s HUGEL-AIR PREMIA LA Open, a victory that vaulted Lee to the best ranking of her professional career, the 22-year-old from Perth has her eyes set on even more Lake Merced success.
“It's always in really great condition and the course is really challenging in itself,” said Lee. “I just really love coming back here.”
Lee finished second at last year’s LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship, shooting a final-round 68 to vault up the leaderboard and force a playoff with Lydia Ko. Ko ultimately took the victory with an eagle on the first playoff hole, an iconic moment to which Lee had a front-row seat. While she did not take home the win, Lee certainly focuses on the positives of that loss, something she strives to do week in and week out.
“Obviously you would like to have the win, that's everybody,” said Lee, who has 17 top-10s in her last 36 starts, including two wins and five runner-up finishes. “I think it's a bit of character building, and without failures, you won't have success. I think you can always learn from them.”
Lee tees off Thursday at 1:10 p.m. off the first tee alongside major champions In Gee Chun and Brooke Henderson.
PARK HAS LAKE MERCED TO THANK FOR BREAKTHROUGH WIN
LPGA fans remember Lydia Ko’s iconic 3-wood shot from the 2018 LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship, but some might not remember the significance of another name near the top of the leaderboard. On Monday of last year’s tournament, Annie Park found herself in a playoff to qualify for the final spot in the field. Not only did the 2016 LPGA rookie qualify for the tournament, but it proved to be a career-defining week for her.
Park ended the week finishing T18 for her third career-top 20 finish on the LPGA Tour. That strong finish was enough for her to get reshuffled up the Priority List and earn a spot at the 2018 ShopRite LPGA Classic, where she became a Rolex First-Time winner.
“If it wasn't for this event, I probably wouldn't have that opportunity to get reshuffled in to a couple of the events and then ShopRite,” Park said. “So just to have Monday with the playoff and then playing well the first two days, finishing top-20, like, you know, I always said that I just need one start and I think this tournament was it. I'll forever remember this event.”
Since the 2018 LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship, Park has collected six top-20 finishes, including her win in Atlantic City. Last week at the HUGEL-AIR PREMIA LA Open, she finished T3, saying that strong finish came because she thrives in California.
“I'm not from here, but I feel like it's kind of my hometown,” Park said of the West Coast. “My sister got me this sweatshirt that says "New York is my baby and L.A. is my boo." California is my boo.”
The Levittown, New York, native was a strong amateur golfer who left high school a semester early to enroll at the University of Southern California. During that spring season, Park led the team to its third NCAA team title while winning four individual events, including the 2013 Pac-12 Championship, NCAA West Regional and NCAA Women’s Golf individual title. She was a three-time All-American and three-time First Team Pac-12 pick for the Trojans and finished her career as the school’s career leader in wins with six.
Park will tee off the first round Thursday at 1:21 p.m. off No. 1 along with Morgan Pressel and Amy Yang.
LAKE MERCED PAVED THE WAY FOR TODAY’S LPGA TOUR STARS
Since 1949, the best girls junior golfers have teed it up at the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, conducted by the USGA. The 2012 championship, held at Lake Merced Golf Club, was arguably one of the strongest years for future LPGA stars finding success at the elite junior level.
Ten players in the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship reached match play at the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior, with five other players competing in the stroke-play portion of the championship. The semifinals featured future LPGA stars Ariya Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko, Alison Lee and Minjee Lee, with Minjee Lee ultimately earning a come-from-behind 1-up win over Alison Lee.
“I've gotten to know some of the Korean members here and just members all around; even the superintendents and the people that work inside the clubhouse, too,” said Ko, who went on to win the 2014 and 2015 Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic at Lake Merced. “I've been lucky that they've always been super welcoming, just always cheered me on. Maybe it's due to the fact that I won here, I'm not really sure, but they've always just given me a big smile. I know that no matter if I play well or not, they're always there to clap for me.”
The following players from this week’s field competed at the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Lake Merced:
- Youngin Chun (did not reach match play)
- Kristen Gillman (did not reach match play)
- Brooke Henderson (lost in the first round)
- Megan Khang (lost in the second round)
- Lydia Ko (lost in the semifinals to Alison Lee)
- Ariya Jutanugarn (stroke-play medalist; lost in the semifinals to Minjee Lee)
- Alison Lee (lost in the championship match to Minjee Lee)
- Minjee Lee (defeated Alison Lee in the championship match)
- Yu Liu (lost in the third round to Alison Lee)
- Maddie McCrary (did not reach match play)
- Su Oh (lost in the second round to Alison Lee)
- Annie Park (lost in the first round)
- Maria Torres (did not reach match play)
- Alana Uriell (did not reach match play)
- Lilia Vu (lost in the first round)
Other LPGA Tour players in that field include Karen Chung, Katelyn Dambaugh and Lauren Stephenson, as well as incoming rookie Maria Fassi.
Seven past U.S. Girls’ Junior Champions are in this week’s field: Inbee Park (2002), In-Kyung Kim (2005), Jenny Shin (2006), Lexi Thompson (2008), Amy Olson (2009), Ariya Jutanugarn (2011) and Minjee Lee (2012).
COUNTDOWN TO SOLHEIM CUP
Catriona Matthew, captain of the 2019 European Solheim Cup team, is making her seventh LPGA Tour start of 2019 this week at the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship. Matthew has planned her 2019 playing schedule to allow her to scout out her Team Europe prospects and in a few weeks she will be making her second start of the season on the Ladies European Tour at the La Reserva de Sotogrande Invitational in Spain.
“It's good to be out here seeing them and just chatting to them and finding out what their thoughts and feelings are,” Matthew said on Wednesday at Lake Merced Golf Club.
The prestigious biennial contest between Europe and USA returns to Scotland for the first time since 2000, with the 2019 Solheim Cup being held at the world-famous PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles from Sept. 13-15. Including this week’s event in Daly City, there are 13 tournaments to go before Team Europe is announced on Aug. 12th in Gleneagles and 14 tournaments left before Team USA is announced.
“The team's shaping up really well,” Matthew said. “Some of the more established players are playing really well and then we've got quite a few rookies going for a few spots. I think it's going to be a strong team.”
2019 LPGA rookie Anne van Dam is currently leading the LET Solheim Cup points and is a lock to make her Solheim Cup debut in September. Matthew knows the team will likely have a wide breadth of experience levels of Solheim Cup experience, but she’s not worried.
“I think obviously you're going to have the more experienced ones, you know, your Anna (Nordqvist), Carlota (Ciganda), Aza (Munoz), who have played in a few before and perhaps help the younger ones and the ones who haven't played in as many,” said Matthew, who has an 18-11-8 record in her nine Solheim Cup playing appearances. “As much a leader, I don't know. The more established ones giving a little bit of help.”
When asked if Team Europe could beat a formidable Team USA and three-time Captain Juli Inkster, Matthew coyly smiled and said without a doubt, “Absolutely.”
Below is a glimpse of the current outlook for Team USA and Team Europe as of April 30, 2019.
Team USA: Player (how they are qualified)
- Nelly Korda (Solheim Cup Points)
- Danielle Kang (Solheim Cup Points)
- Lexi Thompson (Solheim Cup Points)
- Jessica Korda (Solheim Cup Points)
- Lizette Salas (Solheim Cup Points)
- Megan Khang (Solheim Cup Points)
- Marina Alex (Solheim Cup Points)
- Cristie Kerr (Solheim Cup Points)
- Austin Ernst (Rolex Women’s World Rankings)
- Angela Stanford (Rolex Women’s World Rankings)
- Captains Pick
- Captains Pick
Team Europe: Player (how they are qualified)
- Anne van Dam (Solheim Cup Points)
- Carlota Ciganda (Solheim Cup Points)
- Charley Hull (Solheim Cup Points)
- Georgia Hall (Rolex Women’s World Rankings)
- Azahara Munoz (Rolex Women’s World Rankings)
- Anna Nordqvist (Rolex Women’s World Rankings)
- Caroline Masson (Rolex Women’s World Rankings)
- Jodi Ewart Shadoff (Rolex Women’s World Rankings)
- Captains Pick
- Captains Pick
- Captains Pick
- Captains Pick
The cutoff to earn points for Team USA will be the 2019 CP Women’s Open, which will be held Aug. 22-25 at Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ontario, Canada. The 2019 Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open, to be held at The Renaissance Club in North Berwick, Scotland from Aug. 8-11, will serve as the cutoff for players to earn Solheim Cup points for Team Europe and the full team, including the captain’s picks, will be announced on Monday, Aug. 12, in Scotland.
Keep up with Team USA Captain Juli Inkster’s blog and more Solheim Cup news: http://www.solheimcupusa.com/overview