DEFENDING CHAMPION MINJEE LEE LOOKING FOR MULTIPLE MAJOR WINS WITH EVIAN ON TAP
As Minjee Lee hoisted the silver trophy at the 2021 Amundi Evian Championship, she did not know that the victory would open the proverbial floodgates. With a final-round 64 and a two-putt playoff birdie that clinched her first major title, Lee began a streak of what she says is some of the best golf of her illustrious career.
“I feel like I’m in a really good place with my game. Mentally I’m in a good place as well,” said Lee as she prepared to start her title defense on Thursday. “I feel like everything is kind of coming together really well. I really worked hard for all of this, so I’m going to keep working hard and hopefully it keeps paying off.”
Since Lee’s victory in Evian-les-Bains, she has notched 13 top-20 finishes, including a win at the Cognizant Founders Cup and her second major title in June at the U.S. Women’s Open presented by ProMedica, and has soared to No. 2 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. The 26-year-old Australian enters the week with a combined score to par in the 2022 majors of -24, 13 shots better than any other player. And according to the KPMG Performance Insights, she leads the LPGA Tour in Strokes Gained Total (2.610), Strokes Gained Tee to Green (3.44) and Strokes Gained Approach Around the Green (2.680).
“I feel like I’ve been working on all aspects of my game for my entire life to bring me to that position. I don’t think necessarily that moment, but all the hard work that I put into it,” said Lee, who said she focused on her putting and wedge game ahead of traveling to Evian. “I think it really shaped sort of, you know, my attitude and sort of my mindset going into the other events. So, yeah, definitely helped me in that aspect.”
Jin Young Ko is the last player to win multiple majors in one year, taking the Chevron and Amundi Evian titles in 2019. The last Australian to accomplish that feat? That would be the great Karrie Webb, who took the U.S. Women’s and KPMG Women’s PGA titles in 2001. So could Lee add her name to that list? She played it coy on Wednesday, saying, “I feel like I’m in a good place.” But if the big smile on her face had words, it would say look out, Minjee Lee is coming.
KORDA LOVING THE HEAT AND RELISHING THE CHALLENGE
She gives you so little that you always lean in looking for more. Like many great champions throughout history, Nelly Korda keeps most of her thoughts and feelings to herself. Unlike some from her generation who emote every second of their lives on Instagram or TikTok, Korda is old school, not quite Ben Hogan but more on the Jack Nicklaus side of the sharing scale. The steely-eyed stare tells you when you’ve ventured too far afield with a question. And some of the answers barely hide her desire to start this race right now. She is the thoroughbred leaning into the starting gate, taut, edgy and itching to run.
“My caddie and I joked about it that last year was our best finish (at the Amundi Evian Championship) and we high fived after,” Korda said on Tuesday afternoon between thunderstorms at the Evian Resort Golf Club in France. “I’ve always had a hard time on the greens here. I think that’s been the hardest part for me, trying to learn, because you see something (going one way) and it reacts completely different. It’s kind of like in Palm Springs where everyone’s like, ‘it breaks toward Indio.’ Yeah, so for sure the greens have been something I’m figuring out every year.
“Hopefully I get to do that again and improve from last year.”
Mountain golf gives the illusion of gravitational anomalies. Putts look almost certain to break one way but go another. Some blame it on grain – bentgrass grows toward the setting sun, that sort of thing – but it’s actually the topographical underlayer. Underground water in the mountains always flows through the passes to the lowest point in the valley. Find that line and you will figure out how your putts break, no matter what Aim Point is telling you.
Learning that takes experience. Trusting it takes discipline. Korda comes into this championship with both.
“I think the thing is, every year is different, too,” she said about the golf course. “I think this year it’s a little softer out. The greens are a little slower. So it just depends on how the golf course is playing.”
One way it’s playing it hot. Europe is experiencing a record heat wave and the temperatures in Evian-les-Bains are expected to be in the 90s all week. That fits perfectly into Korda’s plans.
“I enjoy playing in this,” she said. “I would pick this over playing in cold any day. I do not enjoy playing golf on cold weather. I actually make my schedule where I play mostly in warm weather and not in cold weather.
“Growing up in Florida I’m so used to playing and practicing in this, so it doesn’t really bother me. Hydration a definitely key and looking after your body as well when you’re playing in this type of weather.”
Her last competitive round was a 61 at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational last Saturday, which bodes well for her form coming into the season’s penultimate major. But Korda wanted to downplay expectations. She even joked that she played well in Michigan because “Jess was reading my putts.”
But she gave away one thing that should make the rest of the competitors sit up a little straighter.
“The wins are amazing, but, honestly, what I love about sports and is the roller coaster,” Korda said. “I love the downs where you have to improve, push, and where you have to dig deep to get back to where you want to be.”
She was sidelined for four months with a dangerous blood clot early in the year, coming back to competition for the first time at the U.S. Women’s Open where she finished in the top-10. She also had a runner-up finish at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give and a tie for eighth with sister Jess after the 61 at Dow. The Amundi Evian Championship is her fifth start since returning.
“January feels so, so far away,” she said. “I definitely had to reassess everything. I wasn’t even sure when I would come back obviously after everything that happened.
“I’m just happy I’m here. I played some solid golf and worked hard since I’ve been able to play. I go into every event wanting to contend, wanting to win. I know that a lot of girls have a lot more rounds under their belts, and I just appreciate every round that I have got to play this year. Hopefully I can give it a go this week and for the rest of tournaments this year.
“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t hungry to win another major. Obviously, that’s something I want to add to my list.”
* Information and images credit to www.lpga.com