In-form Korean star K.H. Lee recalls the iconic moment when countryman Y.E. Yang triumphantly carried his golf bag over his head after producing one of the great upsets in major golf history at the 2009 PGA Championship.
He is now dreaming of producing his own major moment.
A week after repeating as champion at the AT&T Byron Nelson for his second PGA TOUR victory, Lee, 30, tees up in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Thursday feeling buoyant ahead of the year’s second major.
He will spearhead a strong Asian challenge which will include the likes of Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, India’s Anirban Lahiri and fellow Koreans Si Woo Kim, a three-time PGA TOUR winner, young prospect Joohyung Kim and Yang.
“It’s always exciting to play in a major. Second time winning, I feel I can handle my emotions better. I feel everything is in good shape. My coach, Chris (Mayson) has helped get my game back on track and my putting was about as good as it’s ever felt. I’m very excited, I feel like I’m up to the challenge this time,” said Lee.
This will be his sixth appearance in a major which he has yet to make a weekend cut but the manner in which he successfully defended his Byron Nelson title where he held off the likes of Jordan Spieth with a winning aggregate of 26-under 262 has given him a huge dose of confidence.
Three weeks ago, Lee started working again with Mayson and his mental trainer, and hired a new caddie as well and the result was for all to see. He also put his old two-ball putter back in his golf bag which has worked like a charm.
Lee has vivid memories of Yang taking Tiger Woods down in a memorable head-to-head duel some 13 years ago at Hazeltine to deliver Asia’s first major winner. “I don’t quite remember what I was doing then when Y.E. won the PGA, but what I do remember was him hoisting his golf bag,” recalled Lee, who currently sits in 28th position on the FedExCup standings.
“I hope I can do something that exciting. It showed a lot of pure joy. I don’t know if I have that in me but I guess we’ll find out. Hopefully when I win a major, I can do something exciting as well. He’s definitely opened the door and paved the way for us younger generation Koreans and it definitely gives me confidence in knowing Y.E. has won the PGA Championship. And then, we had Hideki winning the Masters last year and it’s helpful for me moving forward.”
Lee played in his first PGA Championship at The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island after winning the Byron Nelson 12 months ago but missed the halfway cut, largely due to fatique following a long week at TPC Craig Ranch which endured weather disruptions. He knows Southern Hills will pose a true test of skill and character and he is up to the challenge.
“The fact that we don’t have to travel that far, just going up the road to Tulsa, I feel like it is going to help me,” he said.
“I got to play nine holes today (Tuesday), and it’s a great golf course and just suited for a major championship. You have to drive it well especially with the Bermuda rough and a lot of greens are slanted a certain way. You definitely want to keep it below the hole and you don’t want to be over the green. With the wind possibly kicking up to 30mph this week, you’re just going to miss greens. Having good touch around the greens will be key. You just need to drive it on to the fairway and missing it in the right spots are going to be key to playing well this week.”