Opinion: Jeongeun Lee6, LPGA players deserve notice beyond names, nationalities

Jason Vinlove/USA TODAY

Opinion: Jeongeun Lee6, LPGA players deserve notice beyond names, nationalities

Golf

Opinion: Jeongeun Lee6, LPGA players deserve notice beyond names, nationalities

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CHARLESTON, S.C. – I wonder if Hank Haney has tuned into the 74th U.S. Women’s Open. In a perfect world, he’d learn from his mistakes and become a champion of the LPGA after spewing such ignorance on his radio show earlier in the week. Haney has since been suspended from SiriusXM at the instruction of the PGA Tour.

There should be plenty of time then for him to catch up on those in contention Sunday at the Country Club of Charleston.

Let’s start with Jeongeun Lee6, who sits two shots back of Yu Liu and Celine Boutier, two former Duke teammates who hail from China and France, respectively.

With Michelle Wie out with an injury, Haney said he couldn’t name six players in the field but predicted that a South Korean named “Lee” would win.

His co-host then pointed out that there are six Lees in the field this week.

More than 40 percent of the population in South Korea has the surname Kim, Lee or Park. Finding ways to stand out from the crowd is nothing new for South Koreans. It’s what gave us Birdie Kim, the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open champion who famously holed a bunker shot – for birdie – on the 72nd hole to upset then amateur Morgan Pressel. An unforgettable name and moment in major championship history.

The name Jeong Eun Lee was so popular on the Korean LPGA that the tour began adding numbers to their names.

Lee6 embraced it, adopting the nicknames “Hot 6” and “Lucky 6.” The LPGA rookie kept the “6” when competing in the U.S. so that fans back home could still identify her. Her white-blonde hair suggests a playful side.

Squarely in the hunt after three rounds in Charleston, Lee talked to Golfweek late Saturday evening about the tragic accident that shaped so much of her life.

When she was 4 years old, Lee’s father, Jung Ho Lee, a truck driver by trade, fell asleep at the wheel while driving through the night. The accident left him paralyzed.

Jung Ho Lee and his wife, Eun Ji Ju, aren’t in Charleston this week. They don’t travel that much to watch their daughter play because it’s so complicated and expensive traveling with a wheelchair. It was the same when Lee6 was growing up in South Korea as hotels that are handicap accessible are hard to find and more costly.

Lee6, 23, describes herself as an independent player. Neither of her parents play the game.

The drive to win for Lee6 stems in part from being able to financially provide for her family since neither of her parents work.

“I want to support my family and be successful,” she said through the help of her manager and interpreter, Jennifer Kim.

Minjee Lee, who’s actually Australian, sits four shots back and is primed to make a run on Sunday. California-born Andrea Lee, a rising senior at Stanford, wrote an essay for her ethics and bioengineering class in the hotel lobby the night before she opened with a 2-under 69. Mi Hyang Lee actually lives in nearby Columbia, S.C., and has worked on her game with longtime Gamecock coach Puggy Blackmon.

May 31, 2019; Charleston, SC, USA; Jeongeun Lee6 on the 14th hole during the second round of the U.S. Women’s Open golf tournament at Country Club of Charleston. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Five of the six Lees in the field made the cut, including Jeong Eun Lee (also known as No. 5 in Korea). Each of them has a story worth telling.

Haney’s comments weren’t offensive to only one segment of the LPGA. The fact that he was unaware that the championship is being played this week and the tone in which he mentioned that he doesn’t know the players, basically suggests to listeners that women’s golf isn’t worth the time.

“The underlying current of that message was who cares about women’s golf?” said Karrie Webb. “That’s so damaging.”

Beth Daniel is a native of Charleston and grew up at the championship’s host club. She hated to see Haney’s comments take away from the biggest event in women’s golf. And on the same day that the USGA announced the first $1 million first-place prize in women’s major championship history.

“He’s got a show that’s supposed to promote golf,” said Daniel, “and he’s knocking down the part of golf that has the biggest growth right now. He doesn’t know that.”

A Lexi Thompson victory in Charleston would certainly move the needle for women’s golf. (Surely Haney knows her name.) But if sports fans got the chance to know Thompson’s good friend Jaye Marie Green, watched her light up the room with a smile and an easygoing laugh, they couldn’t help but want to know more.

It’s that way with so many of the players. Maybe Haney’s comments will spark golf fans to take a closer look at the names and faces on the LPGA they don’t recognize. Dig deeper to learn the inspiring stories of a player like Lee6, who isn’t alone in the responsibilities she carries.

Karrie Webb doesn’t believe that Haney should lose his job forever. But she hopes he comes to realize that his voice is loud, and that it has influence.

“It’s such a tired old message that’s been around in golf for centuries,” said Webb. “I think we’re all bigger than that now.

“And it needs to stop.”


  

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