The last man in at the PGA Championship hopes to be the last man standing again come Sunday.
After the high of securing his breakthrough PGA TOUR victory at the AT&T Byron Nelson, Korea’s newest star, K.H. Lee is ready to ride on the adrenaline rush at the year’s second major starting on Thursday.
Lee, 29, is amongst a strong contingent of Asian golfers gathered at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island and hopeful of emulating Hideki Matsuyama’s historic Masters triumph last month which delivered a timely impetus for the game in the Far East.
“One of the good things that came with my win was getting a spot in the PGA Championship and the Masters next year. I was the third alternate for this week and it’s great that I’m now in. Sunday was challenging due to the weather and the (two hour) suspension, so I felt a little tired. However, I am be fully charged for the PGA Championship,” said Lee.
Most of Sunday night was spent enjoying a nice dinner with his wife and team, and also replying to some 300 congratulatory text messages that he received from family and friends following his three-stroke victory at TPC Craig Ranch, which made him the eighth Korean golfer to win on the PGA TOUR.
The victory, which propelled him to 29th place on the FedExCup rankings and 59th on the Official World Golf Ranking, has also given him a fighting chance to qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo this July. He needs to overhaul Si Woo Kim, nine rungs ahead of him in the world ranking, by June 21 to seal his ticket.
“I received so many text messages from family, friends and lots of peoples I know. I was so excited and didn’t know what to say. I just want to say thank you,” said Lee. “I also heard that I could I have a chance to go to the Olympics if I continue to play well in May and June. If I get the chance, I will certainly give it my best.”
Lee has featured in two U.S. Opens previously where he missed both the cuts. But with his confidence soaring and knowing that Matsuyama had pulled off a terrific victory at the Masters, he is quietly hoping to play his way into contention at Kiawah Island, which is set to deliver a stern test.
“Hideki and I have known each other since we were kids. I met him when I was a national team member. At that time, I thought his back swing tempo was unique and then he goes on to win a few times on the Japan Tour, came over to the PGA TOUR and won several times as well. I was very impressed with what he achieved and hoped that I also would win someday. I was also very proud when he won the Masters. He did a great job and made history for Asian golf,” said Lee, whose other career victories include two wins each in Korea and Japan.
The other Asians in the field include Sungjae Im, Si Woo Kim, Byeong Hun An, Y.E. Yang, Takumi Kanaya, Rikuya Hoshino and Jazz Janewattananond. Yang won the 2009 PGA Championship to become Asia’s first male major champion before being joined by Matsuyama in the major winner’s club.