Jee Young Lee fast facts
Birthdate: December 2, 1985
Birthplace: Seoul, South Korea
U.S. home: Orlando, Florida
Road to the LPGA: Won 2005 CJ Nine Bridges Classic (now known as the Hana Bank-KOLON Championship)
LPGA rookie season: 2006
LPGA wins: 1
Best LPGA finish: 1st (2005 CJ Nine Bridges Classic)
2009 earnings: $250,370 (23rd)
Best 2009 finish: T-3rd at State Farm Classic
World ranking: 16th
The one thing you need to know about LPGA Tour standout Jee Young Lee is she’s very serious about having fun.
The smile tells the story. It’s not a quick upturn at the corners of the mouth or a shy flashing of the teeth. No, her’s comes easily, naturally from deep down, bursting from her like a beam of light.
The sturdily built South Korean, who some fans and other Tour players have nicknamed “Jelly”, quickly charms anybody she meets. And while that’s her natural personality, it’s not simple happenstance. She works at it.
In fact, the 23-year-old watches Korean comedy shows in her down time; for the pleasure of it, yes, but also to better understand how to pass along her genuine enjoyment of life.
“It’s not only relaxing for myself,” Lee said, “but also for learning how to make people laugh. It’s not easy to communicate with other golfers in English as well as I want to, and so I have to think about other ways to convey my good will.
“It is good to know we could be connected without language. … I am a funny girl by nature and like having fun with other golfers. I wish I could share more with golf fans as well and, in order to do so, I know I have to further my English skills.”
Lee also has a Web site, which is mostly in Korean, where a large gallery of photos of her is posted – most are on the humorous side, funny faces, poses, gestures.
Even her style of play on the golf course gives insight into how she lives life. She’s a “grip it and rip it” kind of player, always in the top 5 in driving distance on Tour. She even lists her driver as her favorite club.
Hitting it straight is another issue. But her struggle to hit fairways hasn’t prevented Lee from making a name for herself and earning plenty of money during her 3 ½ years on Tour.
Unlike many of her Korean compatriots, Lee was not a big-name amateur – didn’t play in a lot of amateur tournaments growing up and didn’t play for the Korean National Team at any level.
And when she turned pro in late 2004, most people in Korea, let alone those from other countries, didn’t know who she was.
But that was about to change.
In her first tournament on the Korean LPGA Tour in 2005 she missed the cut. Then, stunningly, seemingly out of nowhere, she won the Korean Women’s Open the next week.
She went on to make the cut in the other eight regular-season KLPGA events she played that year, though never contended again. But her win at the Korean Open qualified her to be in the field at the CJ Nine Bridges Classic (now called the Hana Bank-KOLON Championship), a KLPGA event co-sanctioned by the LPGA featuring the best players from both tours.
Amazingly, Lee won the event. And the no-name became an overnight star in Korea. Plus, she earned exempt status on the LPGA Tour for two seasons.
She hasn’t had any trouble staying on Tour. Though she hasn’t won as an official LPGA member during her tenure, she has played with distinction, if not consistency.
She’s been in contention often, including this past week when she led after round one and finished tied for third at the State Farm Classic. She’s also been runner-up five times, most notably as a sudden-death playoff loser to Suzann Pettersen at the 2007 Michelob Ultra Open and tying for second at the ’07 British Open.
Lee finished 20th on the money list as a rookie, 10th in 2007 and 21st last year.
She has a new swing coach this year to try and alleviate some of the inconsistencies (particular from the tee box), and she’s missed just one cut, though she hadn’t been really high up on the leaderboard until last weekend.
But win or no win, for Lee, golf is fun, it makes her smile – if not she wouldn’t be doing it. Her words after making a $10,000 donation to benefit the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program in 2007, say it best.
“I want to show my gratitude and give something back in return. My motto when I play is: ‘Let’s enjoy golf!’”