WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – Danny Lee’s first-round 74 at Q-School was hardly impressive, especially for this one-time phenom. But it was important.
Over the course of six rounds at Q-School, a player likely will have a bad round. The key is minimizing the damage.
Lee, the 2008 U.S. Amateur champion, was 4 over after six holes Wednesday. He made the turn in 40 strokes, half of those swipes coming on Orange County National’s relatively flat greens. He missed three par putts of 8 feet or less in his first six holes.
Lee shot 2-under 34 on his second nine. He made a 40-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the par-3 sixth, his 15th hole, and sank a 6-foot birdie putt on his final green. Lee is tied for 97th after shooting 74, but he’s just three shots outside the all-important top 25. The top 25 at week’s end earn PGA Tour cards.
Lee’s start Wednesday was hardly what you’d expect from this talented 20-year-old. The same could be said about this season.
Lee finished 159th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai (with just one top-25 in 22 starts), and fell to 455th in the Official World Golf Ranking, about 300 spots lower than the peak he reached as an amateur. He won on the European Tour as an amateur in 2009 after winning the 2008 U.S. Amateur and Western Amateur, and finishing 20th in the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship.
His seventh-place finish at last month’s Korea Open was his first top-10 in more than a year. Lee is starting to see positive signs under the tutelage of a new teacher. He’s been working with Bill Choung, the president of CompuGolf, a golf performance center in the Dallas suburb of Carrollton. Lee, who grew up in New Zealand, lives in nearby Irving.
“I’m starting to play really well, especially my iron shots,” Lee said. “If I make enough putts the next five days, I think I’ll be OK.”
Choung said he’s been working on helping Lee with the sequencing of his swing, as well as adding stability and control to his action. After turning pro, Lee sought to change his violent swing to reduce the risk of injury, but he also reduced the role of his hands in the swing.
“The hands are where the talent is,” Choung said of Lee, who likes to shape his shots. Choung is helping Lee’s swing look more like his ’08 action.
Lee enjoys tinkering with his swing, sometimes to a fault. For someone with so much talent, and so many titles, Lee seems quick to make changes. Lee, who entered Q-School in 2009 just days removed from his Johnnie Walker victory, tried to emulate the swing of Nationwide Tour player Won Joon Lee after playing with him in a tournament. Lee took an intensive lesson with Hank Haney disciple Suckki Jang shortly before the first stage of PGA Tour Q-School; he failed to advance.
Lee seems to be on a singular path with Choung. “I’m (changing) much less. I don’t want to mess around too much,” Lee said.
No matter what happens this week, Lee is fully exempt on the European Tour next season, thanks to his Johnnie Walker Classic victory. But a good week at Q-School could have Lee on the PGA Tour, where he finished seventh at the ’09 AT&T National, and back on track to fulfilling his potential.