Golf Australia has a high-performance pathway for young golfers, which Perth-born golfing star Minjee Lee feels is vital to keep growing the game in her country.
The initiative is called Give Back, and the 26-year-old player was the first to graduate from the program. She describes to RSNG.com how as a pro, she is indeed giving back…
RSNG The Give Back initiative in Australia is a great way of helping younger players to follow your path. Was it essential to your own success?
MINJEE LEE, LPGA TOUR GOLFER “Oh, I think it’s a really wonderful setup and I am so happy to be involved. I would certainly not be where I am today without the help, time and attention given to me by Golf Australia.
“After five years now as a pro, I am giving back by committing a portion of my season’s winnings. This, to me, felt totally like the right thing to do, and I am proud of both the initiative and myself. I know just how difficult it is to get to where I am, yet there are so many brilliant golfers out there who could have this opportunity, and don’t.
“It’s a combination of things – it’s of course equipment and access, but mostly it’s having the confidence to do things from a very young age, because when you start a project early and with freedom, that permeates into your whole understanding of things going forward.
“If that freedom isn’t there, the path you take is a different one and, most probably, a more difficult one.
“So now, I am confident that anything I can do to help will benefit and support the kids growing and learning this amazing sport, and I hope that soon they will be joining me on the LPGA Tour!”
RSNG Australia has a good history of producing great sports stars, including in golf. How does Give Back continue that?
MINJEE LEE “Oh of course – the most successful of them in the women’s game was probably Karrie Webb with seven major wins. Since then we’ve had Cam Smith, Jason Day, Adam Scott all winning majors… and of course, me! And if you go back a generation, then what Greg Norman did for the sport was quite incredible.
“But it’s a dangerous thing to take for granted that your country is just going to keep churning out great talent, so to have things like Give Back in place for us to help move those things along is very important and a real privilege.”
I have to believe in my own ability and good things will happen
RSNG Going back to the time you turned professional, what was it like making the transition to the LPGA?
MINJEE LEE “To be honest, it wasn’t too different because I was still just doing what I like to do, and that is playing golf.
“Obviously, it was at a higher level and against better players – without disrespecting the girls in the Juniors and Amateurs. However, I tried not to heap too much pressure on and kept telling myself it was the same game.
“With so many great players on the Tour, you’re not just going to turn up, play your game and walk away with a trophy. Yet I am a confident person in the fact that I know that to play well I have to believe in my own ability and good things will happen.
“That said, it was still a big relief to get my first win in 2015 – that relaxed me a lot!”
RSNG Are organizations like Golf Australia doing enough to prepare youngsters for the professional game?
MINJEE LEE “Golf Australia was vital for my progression and will be brilliant for kids who are going through it now, just as these organizations in other countries do amazing work.
“What stood out most for me was not necessarily the physical golf side of things, more help with psychological and mental challenges that come about through playing. Knowing that you’re good enough is half the battle; sometimes because if you don’t have the confidence to deliver, then it’s going to be tough to perform.
“But Golf Australia made me see that there was a reason I was there and the fact that I was part of that program, they had every confidence in me being able to make it and that showed me that I needed to match that belief in myself.
“Growing up in their national program I was able to progress to playing on the international teams. In addition, there was funding available for me when I turned professional.
“However, while a lot of these organizations gain praise for working through the next pro, really the point of them is to open up pathways of enjoyment for players who will never progress to using the sport in a professional or career way. In a sense, it’s not for people like me – it’s for everyone else who just loves the game and wants to play golf. That’s the really exciting thing, because that is so much more important than just what the support enabled me to achieve.”
My family love golf and many of my immediate family and relatives have played over the years
RSNG You’ve also credited your family for the way you were able to develop and excel – is golf the family sport?
MINJEE LEE “Sure, my family love golf and many of my immediate family and relatives have played over the years… my mum, my dad, my brother, my grandparents…
“My mum was a really good player and she played off a handicap of five before she started teaching. So, yes, I had some really good influences in my golf upbringing.
“When you grow up in that sort of environment, it’s obviously going to have some sort of effect on you. I was either going to hate it and be bored of golf very quickly and would do something else, or I was going to go with it.”
WHAT NEXT? ‘The Big Queenslander’, Australian Adam Scott, says that amateurs wanting to improve should look at their short game. RSNG.com sat down with him to find out more.