Few players can boast a better 2021 season than Minjee Lee. The seven-year LPGA Tour veteran has had a banner year, one that’s seen her victorious in a major at the Amundi Evian Championship and notch five other top-five results, most recently at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. Lee even represented Australia at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, finishing in a tie for 29th.
Coming into this week at the CME Group Tour Championship sitting at 9th in the Race to the CME Globe, Lee felt good about her game. But after firing a 4-under 68 that saw the 25-year-old hit 13 of 14 fairways and 17 of 18 greens on a windy day at Tiburón Golf Club, she sits squarely in contention, four shots back of 36-hole leader Celine Boutier.
“The wind was probably everything that we had to factor in,” said Lee, whose sole bogey on the day came at No. 18 after finding the water on her drive. “The greens and the condition of the golf course is so good. The putting green is really, really amazing. Judging the wind and the shots was the biggest thing so I think it played the biggest factor. The course sort of sets up for a bunched leaderboard. Like yesterday was playing quite easy and today the wind was its defense. It depends on the weather on the weekend. Hopefully we get some good weather, maybe some tough conditions, and then we can see what happens on the leaderboard.”
While she’s played good golf across the entire season, her victory at Evian has proven to be the most validating for Lee. Though she had won five times on Tour ahead of her week in France, taking home the title at one of the biggest events in golf does wonders for a player’s self-assurance, and Lee admits that it was game-changing and mind-altering for a host of different reasons.
“I can just play a little bit more freely. Like I know that I have in in me. I've been out here seven years, but you still go back to feeling like do I really belong here if you don't win for a little while. Not doubt, but like, Am I going to win again? Just those kinds of thoughts. It's just like a little silent confidence for me just so I can go out there and play confidently and know that I can play under pressure and play well under pressure.”
Lee has played well at the Tour’s season finale in the past, finishing T7 in 2015, but she has never carded four under-par rounds in any of her six starts in the event, a trend she’s primed to buck after opening the CME Group Tour Championship with back-to-back scores in the 60s for the very first time. Lee said she’ll rely heavily on her ball-striking to carry her through and with confidence derived from coming up clutch in the biggest of moments, she’s one to keep an eye on this Saturday and Sunday.
“Two rounds, quite a lot of golf left,” said Lee. “Today, I missed a couple closer opportunities that I had for birdie, but it was a little bit different conditions in comparison to yesterday. Just need to judge it a little differently. I've been striking the ball well pretty much week in, week out. I've been pretty consistent in that retrospect. I think the biggest difference is putting. I can always hit it close to the hole, so if I hole the putt or don't, that's the biggest difference.”