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Some Lee way

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PINEHURST, N.C. – Two years ago at the U.S. Junior, a man I’d never met tapped me on the shoulder just outside the clubhouse at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club. He told me I needed to meet someone. I walked with him over to the putting green, where Danny Lee was sitting down next to his golf bag, having just finished off a 6-and-5 victory in his first round match.

“That was probably me,” said Rambert Sim, standing outside the clubhouse at Pinehurst No. 2 Friday at the U.S. Amateur, where Lee defeated Oklahoma State freshman Morgan Hoffmann, 4 and 3, despite tweaking his left shoulder that morning on the driving range, to advance to the semifinals.

“I knew he was really good, but he just didn’t have any experience,” said Sim, a friend of Lee’s father, Sangoo, who Danny Lee refers to as his “uncle.”

“I just wanted people to know… he’s really good,” Sim said.

Lee, 18, was born in Korea, now lives in New Zealand and stays and travels with Sim during his trips to America, including this latest four-month jaunt that’s included a victory at the Western Amateur and last week’s tie for 20th at the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship. Sim had been caddying for Lee, but said he “was fired” last week when he gave Lee three wrong yardages at the Wyndham. He was adding instead of subtracting.

“He’s mad at me,” said a smiling Sim, who owns a driving range in San Diego.

On Lee’s bag this week is local caddie Bob Scheirer, a 10-year veteran at Pinehurst who Sim said is one of the reasons Lee has been able to glide so easily through the match-play bracket.

“Well, not the only reason,” said Sim, as he walked away from the clubhouse Friday afternoon carrying Lee’s bag.

There was also that 10-minute lesson from Jerry Kelly last week at Sedgefield Country Club, a Donald Ross design like Pinehurst, on how to chip and pitch out of Bermudagrass. “Because he never had any practice,” Sim said.

But that really isn’t a good reason, either. Hoffmann, who played well all week and said he just didn’t “bring what I had to the table” against Lee Friday, served a better one.

“He hits his driver and irons just straight at the flag, straight down the fairway every time,” he said. Lee added to that, after one reporter asked him how Pinehurst No. 2 suits his game.

“Every putt I have just falls into the hole,” said Lee, who drained a 20-footer for birdie on No. 13 and another 15-footer for par on the 15th to end his match with Hoffmann. Lee also defeated Hoffmann, 3 and 2, in the quarterfinals of the Western Amateur earlier this month.

Lee said he is “very, very” confident heading into Saturday’s semifinal match against Georgia freshman Patrick Reed with a trip to the Masters on the line, but also said he was playing better at the Western Am, which included an un-Danny Lee-like 1-up victory in the Round of 16 against Wisconsin’s Daniel Woltman.

Since the match-play portion of this championship began Wednesday, Lee hasn’t had to play the 15th hole. He’s won 5 and 4, 7 and 6, and 4 and 3, twice.

“Still, pretty good,” said Lee, who has now strung together nine consecutive days of competitive golf, beginning with his opening-round 68 last Thursday at the Wyndham. Lee teed off Monday at Pinehurst without having played a practice round on the No. 2 course.

“My iron shots are really good, and putting is really good, so I’m very comfortable,” he said.

His left shoulder, which he tweaked this morning on the driving range about an hour before his match, might be the only thing that can stop him. But that’s where ice packs, 800 milligrams of Advil and a Pinehurst Resort massage therapist come in.

“It should be better tomorrow,” said Lee.

Lee is a fast-track kind of guy, not even taking into account that he is perhaps the fastest player in the field when it comes to pace-of-play. Not 20 seconds after his opponent’s approach shots hit the ground, Lee’s are in the air.

Over the last two years, Lee has quickly worked his way to becoming No. 1 in the Golfweek/Scratch Players World Amateur Ranking.

At the ‘06 Junior, Lee’s first USGA event, the big names were Philip Francis, the eventual champion, and Rickie Fowler, now the top-ranked player in college golf; both were bounced earlier this week.

Lee wasn’t even the most talked about Lee that week. Richard Lee beat Danny Lee, 2 up, in the quarterfinals on his way to a runner-up finish. Richard has since turned professional, a route Danny is expected to take soon.

Lee, who will head back to New Zealand soon for high school graduation next month, began to say Friday that he would be entering December’s PGA Tour Qualifying School as an amateur, but then hesitated, remembering that a victory Friday would earn him a trip to the Masters, as long as he remained an amateur.

“Well, I don’t know,” said Lee, who attended the first round of this year’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

“I really want to play in the Masters,” he said. “It’s my dream.”

Welcome to America, Danny.

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