She seems to have come out of nowhere. Min Lee, the 26-year-old from Taiwan, has been around for a while. She made 21 cuts in her rookie year of 2015 and finished tied for 12th in the U.S. Women’s Open that summer, a promising start to a potentially long and distinguished career. But six years later, after bouncing back and forth between the LPGA Tour and the Epson Tour, where she has won three times, Lee has finally had the kind of breakthrough her talent promised.
A runner-up finish at the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship on a difficult Lake Merced course, followed by a stellar 6-under par opening round at the Meijer Classic for Simply Give has people scrambling to their nearest search engine to learn more about this gregarious player. In fact, her Thursday opening round in Grand Rapids had several people jumping the gun. Any time you’re 8-under through 13 holes with a couple of par-5s left, eager fans extrapolate into madness, coming up with all kinds of whacky expectations, including a potential 59.
Lee chuckled at that. “This is golf and you're going to make some bogeys and you're going to make some birdies,” she said. “It's still early, only the first round, so I'm not really asking too much. The only number I'm thinking about is how far I need to hit my next shot. I don't really think about breaking my personal record, anybody else’s record, or the course record. I just play my game, try to play the best I can.”
She does have an interesting way of remaining calm and level during her rounds. If you get close enough you can hear her, humming and sometimes singing a note or two as she strides down the fairways. “I’m just playing music in my head, just to make me not think about a lot of things that I don't need to think about,” she said. “That's the key thing for me.”
You might catch her humming everything from Mozart to Bruno Mars. On the course, either is a great distraction. Off the course, music is a way to keep her life in balance.
Lee spent the pandemic of 2020 at home in Taiwan where she worked on her short game and made some long-needed tweaks to her swing. “The last few years I haven’t had a chance to make adjustments because we’re playing all the time,” she said. “So, finally, we got a whole year last year and I could spend time working on it.
“I also gained some distance through physical training. I’ve been working really hard on my body and that has helped me both physically and mentally to be tougher. The harder you work, the tougher you get. That helped a lot last week [at Mediheal] which was very stressful. [Conditioning] helped me to hold it together and not get too crazy.
“I’ve felt like driver has always been one of the strongest parts of my game. I don’t get too wild. I’m still hitting the fairways even though I’m hitting it longer, which really helps because I have shorter irons into the greens.”
But she didn’t spend the entire year in the gym and on the range. Lee made the most of the COVID lockdowns by broadening her musical horizons.
“I’ve played piano since I was 6 years old,” she said. “Then my dad took me out to play golf. When it came time for me to go to middle school, I had to make a choice. I would either go to music classes or sports classes. I chose sports. My mom wasn’t happy about it. I think as a woman, they all want you to sit down and be quiet.”
She paused for a beat after that one to get the laugh she wanted.
“About two years ago, I started to play guitar,” Lee said. “For the first year, I went onto YouTube and learned on my own. But last year, being home, I was able to take lessons. My dad played guitar before and I love listening to music all the time. Guitar is easier to travel with than the piano and I can do more things. I like country, classical, pop, blues, jazz. When I (compose) songs, they’re slow songs, so a mixture of jazz and blues.
“I’m still learning. When I [get to the point where I can] play in front of people, that will be cool. Right now, I sing when nobody is around to listen. But I really enjoy when I’m playing guitar and somebody sings with me. My friend and I were listening to the Jason Mraz and I started to learn that song ‘Be Honest.’ Not long after, we went to the guitar store and I picked up a really good guitar, started playing with it and she started singing. That was so cool.”
One day she hopes to record her own songs, although she chuckles and says, “That’s a long way away. I’ve got a lot of work to do before I can jam with someone.”
In the meantime, Lee has an opportunity to put together another solid week on the LPGA Tour, which would go a long way toward making her day job a lot easier.