Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the April 24, 2017 digital edition of Golfweek Magazine.
GRANITEVILLE, S.C. – Min Woo Lee and Fred Lee occasionally like to joke around and tell people they are brothers.
After all, the two Australian golf prodigies hail from Perth, Western Australia. They are almost exactly a year apart (Min Woo, 18, was born July 27, the 17-year-old Fred on July 29). And, of course, they share the same last name.
“People believe it for a second,” Min Woo said. “But then we break the news to them.”
It’s hard to blame one for being tricked. But the truth is, these two Lees couldn’t be much more different in their approach to golf.
Min Woo is the outgoing, aggressive golfer. His length off the tee – consistently more than 300 yards – has caught the attention of pros such as Tiger Woods and Jason Day. (He outdrove Day in a long-drive contest during this year’s Junior Invitational at Sage Valley, where he finished T-3 after last year’s runner-up finish.) His putter is known for catching fire, too.
“He’s one of the clutchest putters,” Fred said. “If you want someone to hole it, it’s him.”
Fred is the methodical, accurate one. He hits the ball on a line and rarely misses fairways.
“He’s known as a machine back home,” Min Woo said.
Fred (T-31 at Sage Valley) is also the bookworm. He wants to attend college in the United States, with Stanford the likely destination. Min Woo, however, doesn’t plan on college golf. There’s no timetable for when he will turn pro, but Min Woo expects to make the jump within the next two years.
When he does, Min Woo will join his sister in the pro ranks. Minjee Lee, 20, is the 19th-ranked women’s golfer in the world, and together she and Min Woo are the only brother-sister duo to win U.S. Junior titles (Min Woo in 2016, Minjee in 2012).
“Believe it or not, I actually started playing golf before her,” said Min Woo, who began when he was 8 years old under the tutelage of instructor Ritchie Smith. His mother, Clara, could have played professional golf back in the day but opted to focus on her kids’ golf careers.
Fred’s parents, David and Jenny Lee, only played recreational golf, but Fred got a much earlier start than Min Woo. Fred was born in Manhasset, N.Y. and moved to Perth when he was 2 years old, and he started swinging plastic clubs at that age.
When he was 6, Fred competed in his first tournament at Wanneroo Golf Club in Neerabup, Western Australia. His only competitor in his age division that day? Min Woo.
“I had no idea who he was,” said Fred, who learned the game from coach Craig Bishop, also the instructor of 2016 U.S. Amateur champ Curtis Luck. “I got to the course and I started crying because I was so scared. But then I hit the first tee shot and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, this is the best thing ever.’
“And then I won by five shots. That’s where it all started.”
Through the years a friendship has formed between the Lees, whose best times together came as teammates at the Australian Men’s and Boys’ Interstate Teams Matches.
“We’ve had a good journey so far,” Min Woo said, “so hopefully more good times are ahead for us.”
The Lees are two of Australia’s top amateurs. Fred, the 2016 Western Australian Amateur winner, is ranked 163rd in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Min Woo, a two-time Western Australian Amateur winner, is ranked No. 52 and plans to defend his U.S. Junior title this summer in Andover, Kan.
Expected to be among his toughest competition at Flint Hills National: his good mate Fred.