Not since 2004 had an East Coast team left the Wyndham Cup victorious – until last year. In a mission to keep the Cup this week, East Coast players certainly seem to have a leg up. With Matt NeSmith, the current top-ranked boy in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings, and Cody Proveaux, the 2010 Rolex Junior Player of the Year, highlighting the East roster, this team seems to shine a little brighter than its Western counterpart.
When: July 24-26
Where: Bay Hill Golf Club, Orlando, Fla.
East Team players: Boys – Parker Derby, Doug Ghim, Tae Wan Lee, Jack Maguire, Lee McCoy, Matthew NeSmith, Cody Proveaux, Greyson Sigg, James Yoon, Adam Wood
Girls – Sierra Brooks, Karen Chung, Casey Danielson, Jaye Marie Green, Yu Liu, Nicole Morales, Anna Newell, Annie Park, Mariah Stackhouse, Samantha Wagner
East Team record: 9-12-1
The attention may be on NeSmith and Proveaux, but the East team also has an asset in Tae Wan Lee, a senior at Downey Christian High School. Lee, ranked No. 23 by Golfweek, hails from the host city of Orlando, Fla. – by way of Korea – and will have a hometown advantage at Bay Hill.
“I’ve played [Bay Hill] only two times,” Lee explained. “But every year I go watch the Arnold Palmer Invitational, so I know what to hit off the tee and where the good spots are to go.”
According to Lee, length is his strong suit, which will bode well on the 7,381-yard layout.
“I hit it a little further than the college guys,” he joked.
But all joking aside, Lee consistently drives the ball more than 300 yards, and is generally the longest player in his group during tournaments. This advantage will be extremely useful in the match play format of the Wyndham Cup, for he or his teammate will normally be hitting approach shots after their opponents.
Lee, 17, moved to the United States two years ago to focus on his golf game. The change has paid off this year; he finished second in the Taylormade-Adidas Golf Junior at Innisbrook and third in the Thunderbird International Junior. These results have drawn interest from USC, UCLA and the University of Florida, but Lee, who graduates in 2013, remains undecided on a school. He wants to improve his English before he commits.
“I can speak English better than a few years ago, but still, grammar or spelling, they discourage me,” said Lee.
Lee’s character certainly isn’t discouraging, however. He should be an important asset to the East team come tournament week because he wants to take on a leadership role. Though he may not be the oldest player on the team, his experience will serve him well, especially during rough matches. When it comes to team golf, Lee understands that “if you don’t play well, you still have each other.”
Lucky for Lee, he will have 19 of the best junior golfers in the country at his back. But considering how he’s played recently, those players should feel the same about him.