The world is breathing down her neck, but ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open leader Ilhee Lee has a bigger mission in mind. She wants to be the highest ranked Lee in this world-class field.
So joked the Korean 26-year-old after a blemish-free 68 left her at five under and a one-shot leader from boom Thai teenager Ariya Jutanugarn, with world No.1 Lydia Ko a shot further back in a tie for third.
But there are 49 players at one over or better on a jam-packed leaderboard that features several Australians including Katherine Kirk (-1), Rebecca Artis (-1), Karrie Webb (E) and comeback queen Rachel Hetherington (E).
Perth prospect Minjee Lee finished at three over, yet remained in the news as one of the targets of the quirky leader.
The delightful Korean, winner of the 2013 Bahamas Classic on the LPGA Tour, said she wanted to become as famous as some of her supremely talented countrywomen. But more, she had an odd goal that suddenly seems very achievable.
“I think there are (five) Lees in the field this week. They’re not all from Korea, but still, lots of Lees. I want to be the most famous Lee, that’s my goal.”
Lee has led just once after the first round of an LPGA Tour event – in Malaysia in 2013 when she finished third.
Lee said she only made a late decision to come to Melbourne after her coach, World Golf Hall of Fame member Sandra Haynie, convinced her she had the game to contend on a course that claimed her before the cut in her only previous Sandbelt appearance in 2012.
“It’s good to see how improved my golf is this year … because I was here in 2012 (and) how I see the golf course at that time and now (is) totally different,” she said.
“It’s really, really fun to see how much I improved since then.”
Pressed as to what had changed in her mind. Lee smiled and said: “The thirteenth hole (the 3rd on Royal Melbourne’s West Course), that hole in 2012 (was) very narrow and tough, but now I can see big fairway.”
“I (now) see the right thing first, I see how I manage the golf course better and then my drive’s better than then and swing’s got better, putting’s better, everything’s much better than that time.”
Ko battled a persistent cough to loom large, but Jutanugarn possibly overshadowed the Kiwi sensation. At 19 and in an injury-interrupted career, the Thai star has never finished worse than 11th in seven previous LPGA Tour starts and has the power game to help tame Royal Melbourne’s par fives.
For first round highlights, see youtu.be/ERMDZv2pGTA