GEELONG, Australia — Once upon a time, it was a tradition. When a son or daughter reached the age of 21, he or she was presented with a key to the front door of the family home. Times have moved on though, especially if the offspring in question happens to be a successful golfer. Min Woo Lee is 21 and, with victory in the Vic Open, the big-hitting Western Australian has unfettered access to any European Tour event through the end of the 2020-’21 season.
Lee, whose sister Minjee is a two-time winner of the concurrent women’s event held at the 13th Beach Golf Links, an hour outside Melbourne, shot 19-under-par 269 to finish two shots clear of New Zealand’s Ryan Fox. Minjee didn’t do so badly either. Six under par for her 72 holes, the elder Lee finished T-6, two shots behind the new women’s champion, Hee Young Park of South Korea. Park beat a pair of compatriots, So Yeon Ryu and Hye-Jin Choi, at the fourth hole of a (not-so) sudden-death playoff.
Still, any disappointment his big sister, No. 9 in the women’s world rankings, was feeling was easily submerged by Min Woo’s maiden professional victory. Long seen as a “can’t miss” candidate for eventual stardom, the former U.S. Junior Amateur champion handled the blustery conditions over the weekend on the exposed Bellarine Peninsula better than anyone. Only once in his final round did anything more than a par scar his scorecard—and even that was relatively insignificant coming as it did on the 71st hole.
“I’m pretty proud of the way I played,” said Lee, who opened his second European Tour season with a third-place finish in the Australian PGA Championship just before Christmas but arrived home after missing the cut in last week’s Saudi International. “I thought coming in I had a really good chance because I was hitting it really good, but I think I impressed myself with the game this whole week. I have an advantage because I can keep the ball down in winds like we saw here. And my sister and I winning the same tournament is pretty special. But I've got bragging rights now. Even better is that I can pick and choose my schedule for the next couple of years. It’s pretty sweet.”
In the face of her brother’s light-hearted provocation, Minjee commendably took the high road, having already greeted her younger sibling with a prolonged bearhug as he left the 72nd green.
“I was super, super proud of him,” said the five-time LPGA winner with a smile. “It was really cool to be here with him and watch him the last two holes. I haven't really seen him play that much. To have a win here is really cool.”
For all the excitement in the home crowd, Lee’s long-predicted victory and relatively serene progress to the 18th green wasn’t the best golf played on the final day. That honor must go to Fox’s 64, what he called “comfortably the best round I've ever played in a tournament.” Three shots better than anyone else managed on the final day (the average score was 71.2) and bogey-free, the burly 33-year-old made four birdies and two eagles.
On the other side of the tournament that uniquely sees full fields of men and women playing alongside each other for equal prize money, Park’s ascent to what is her third LPGA victory was a bit more convoluted than her male counterpart’s. Her closing 73 on a day when the average score for the women was 74.12 was an up-and-down mixture of four birdies and five bogeys.
Tied on eight under par after 72 holes, the Korean trio was down to a pair when Ryu failed to make birdie on the 490-yard par-5 18th hole the second time round. Another half in birdies followed, before Choi, who so nearly won the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open as a 17-year-old amateur, blocked her drive way right into some wild undergrowth. An unsuccessful hack and a near-top into a hazard followed, effectively ending the battle.
“I played four more holes than Min Woo, so I am every tired,” said an emotional Park, who had considered giving up golf last year having seen her victory drought that dated back to the 2013 Manulife Financial LPGA Classic continue. “The win was very tough. But I hit the ball good all day. I didn’t actually know where I stood until the 17th green. I tried very hard after that.”
Effort and good ball-striking. Another key to victory, male or female.