Danny Lee's promising career has been wracked with injuries, but he's hoping for a second life with LIV Golf
Danny Lee has left for LIV Golf after notching one win and earning $15 million on the PGA Tour.
MAYAKOBA, Mexico — Last week, the golf corners of social media lit up when New Zealand pro Danny Lee was spotted grinding on the range mats of the municipal Rancho Park Golf Course only hours after a poor opening round at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club. Lee could have used the manicured turf practice fairway at Riviera to work on his swing, but chose the muny where Jack Nicklaus cashed his first check as a pro in 1962.
Lee went on to miss the cut at Riviera, and it was likely his last start on the PGA Tour outside the majors because the former U.S. Amateur champion joined LIV Golf ahead of this week’s season opener in Mexico.
Kevin Na, a five-time PGA Tour winner who, like Lee, has Korean heritage, phoned Lee and made him an offer to play on his Iron Heads GC team on the lucrative LIV circuit, which is financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
“He told me If I miss this opportunity I would kick myself,” Lee told Golf Digest at El Camaleón Golf Club in Playa del Carmen. But Lee was still hesitant.
“I was a little scared without knowing what it's all about,” he said. “I asked Kevin, is this what I should do? Is this the right decision? Unless you're over here playing golf it’s hard to understand what LIV is like. But I do know that I haven’t heard of a single complaint by a LIV player so far. They just want to make this sport better and it's already worked out [for golfers with the additional influx of money].”
Danny Lee hits a shot during last week's Genesis Invitational, which may prove to be the last regular-season event he plays on the PGA Tour.
Lee, a one-time winer in 303 starts on the PGA Tour, pointed to the improvements to the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and even the Asian Tour, which has a partnership with LIV Golf, as evidence that LIV’s existence has enhanced the opportunities for tour players around the world. On the PGA Tour, a new elite series of “designated” events are underway in which 12 tournaments, outside of the majors and the Players Championship, have $20 million purses and a commitment to showing up from the biggest stars.
Lee, 32, who is based in Irving, Texas, said he felt LIV has had the biggest impact on professional golf since the golden years of 15-time major winner Tiger Woods. Woods’ star power saw TV ratings, corporate sponsorship and tournament purses soar on the PGA Tour.
“Tiger Woods made the golf game better; he brought more sponsors and TV interest, and we all thank him for that,” Lee said. “LIV is the next-best thing to have happened to golf. Look at how much [money] we are playing for every week all around the world now. Every tour is getting better players, more money. As a player you just can't complain right now.”
Asked if it was perhaps too early in the timeline of LIV to suggest its impact is anywhere near second to Woods, Lee said: “Look, nobody will ever have [an impact] like Tiger Woods I can; he is still is my hero,” Lee said. “I will always look up to him. … Look at the superstars we’ve had come across [to LIV]. Major winners like [reigning Open champion] Cameron Smith.”
Lee dealt with a variety of injuries over the years and is currently nursing a wrist ailment. He had 18 withdrawals in his PGA Tour play, but managed to stay inside the top 125 in nine of 11 full seasons.
“Unless you’re a superstar, you’re going to have some ups and downs,” he said. “I would love to have had the greatest 12 years of my career [on the PGA Tour]. With injuries, that's not the reality.”
But Lee said his move to LIV, where its 14 events are played over 54 holes and have no cut, did not mean he wouldn’t remain the same grinder spotted on the range at Rancho Park last week. He said he would even tee up at the 36-hole qualifying for the U.S. Open and Open Championship.
“I’m not giving up,” said Lee, who is 267th in the World Ranking. “I’ll also try to play Asian Tour events and DP World Tour events.”
Lee has a number of significant accomplishments in his golf career. He once held the record as the youngest U.S. Amateur winner; he notched his lone PGA Tour victory at the 2015 Greenbrier Classic and has one win each on the European Tour and Nationwide Tour, and he’s earned $15 million on the PGA Tour. He also played on a Presidents Cup International team in 2015 and made two starts in the World Cup of Golf. He represented New Zealand at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil when golf was reintroduced. He’s satisfied with his resume.
“I could have done better; you always can. But it was pretty good,” he said.