She was destined for major championship glory but no one ever imagined it would come like this.
Minjee Lee earned her breakthrough major in her 36th attempt at the Aumundi Evian Championship in France, needing a final round of 7-under 64 to force a playoff and then firing a 6-iron to six feet at the first playoff hole to defeat Jeongeun Lee6 and join the greats of Australian golf.
Ever since winning the US Junior Girls championship nine years ago Lee’s upward trajectory always pointed towards major glory yet with each near miss the question of when loomed ever larger.
A third-place finish at the 2020 Women’s Open was the best of her five top-10 finishes in majors to date and at the halfway point at Evian Resort Golf Club an improvement on that record seemed unlikely.
A round of 10-under 61 had given Lee6 a 10-stroke advantage heading into the weekend but Lee began chipping away at the deficit with a 6-under 65 in the third round.
That gave her a record seven shots to make up in the final round and the 25-year-old left her extraordinary run to the last minute, making four birdies in her final five holes to post an 18-under par total.
After a difficult front nine Lee6 needed three closing birdies in succession to match Lee’s total but the West Australian had all the momentum when the pair returned to the 18th tee for the playoff, a tee shot that found the fairway setting up a brilliant approach under pressure for a two-putt birdie and forever bring to an end the question of when.
“I’m speechless. I’ve been waiting for this for so long,” Lee admitted as she came to terms with rewriting history with the greatest comeback in a major in the women’s game.
“I hear so many people say, ‘We really want to you win a major’ and, ‘A major is just around the corner’.
“It’s easier said than done; everybody is so good out here.
“It just feels unreal to have won. Just even in the playoff, and all throughout today, I played really well to get myself in that position and I’m just really happy.
“It’s just really nice to have a major title under my belt.”
In winning her first major Lee joins Jan Stephenson, Karrie Webb and Hannah Green as Australian women to have claimed the game’s most prestigious events and it didn’t take long for the 2006 champion at Evian to pass on her congratulations.
“Actually, she did message me straightaway,” Lee said of Webb, who was on the 18th green to celebrate with Green when she triumphed at the 2019 Women’s PGA Championship.
“Over the years she’s been so supportive of my golf and just me as a person, so it’s just been really nice to have her in my corner.”
Two weeks after younger brother Min Woo Lee’s victory at the Scottish Open, Lee said it was a timely message from her caddie Jason Gilroyed and an astute club choice in the playoff that proved to be the difference.
“Going down the 12th fairway, ‘Gilly’, my caddie was like, ‘You know, you have a chance to win your first major championship, so why don’t you just give it a go?’” said Lee, who was 3-under through 13 holes of her final round.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m trying.’
“I just tried to give myself as many birdie opportunities as I could on that back nine. Because it was warm out it was playing quite short so I had a lot of short clubs in.
“Off the tee (in the playoff) I didn’t hit the best tee shot, but it was good enough because it was on the fairway.
“The second shot I hit 6-iron in but initially the yardage was for 5-iron. But with adrenaline and everything ‘Gilly’ was like, ‘Let’s go 6-iron.’
“Hit a good 6-iron and it was six feet from the hole so it worked out.”
Next for Lee is a quick trip back to Texas in the US to see her brother and then to Tokyo to link with Green as a fellow major winner and a second attempt at an Olympic gold medal.