(Ooltewah, Tenn.) - It was the longest 47-minute wait to hit a 3½-foot championship-clinching putt in Min Woo Lee’s young golf career. And when the second of two weather suspensions in Saturday’s 36-hole final match in the 69th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship ended, the 17-year-old from Perth, Australia, calmly holed the putt to make USGA history.
Hank (1998) and Kelli Kuehne (1995 and 1996) won U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur titles, respectively, and there have also been one sister-sister and five brother-brother combinations to have won championships, including Hank and Trip Kuehne (2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur).
“I think we made history, so that’s pretty cool,” said Minjee via Facetime from the LPGA Tour’s UL International Crown outside of Chicago, where she is competing this weekend at The Merit Club for Australia. “I just told him at the beginning of the day to just have fun. I’m glad that he came out winning, and it’s great for both of us.”
Added Min Woo Lee: “It feels great. I'm down in history on the USGA Junior trophy, so it feels really good. It's probably the best I've ever felt. It's a dream come true for me. I've always wanted to win this tournament. I was in good form coming into it. I knew I had a good chance. It feels great to win and be on the trophy with names such as Tiger [Woods].”
The championship began with 36 holes of stroke play on Monday and Tuesday, with the low 64 scorers advancing to match play. The two finalists had to win five 18-hole matches to advance to the championship match.
Lee, No. 131 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, also became the fourth international champion of the U.S. Junior Amateur, but the previous three – Terry Noe (1994), Sihwan Kim (2004) and Andy Hyeon Bo Shim (2012) – were all from the Republic of Korea. Australian Aaron Baddeley lost in the 1998 championship match to James Oh at Conway Farms in suburban Chicago, 1 down.
Lee became the first male Australian in 10 years to win a USGA title, the last being Geoff Ogilvy in the 2006 U.S. Open. Other notable Australian USGA champions include Nick Flanagan (2003 U.S. Amateur), Karrie Webb (2000 and 2001 U.S. Women’s Open), David Graham (1981 U.S. Open) and Jan Stephenson (1983 U.S. Women’s Open).
Goodwin, No. 35 in the WAGR, was bidding to become the seventh different Texan to win the Junior Amateur since Hunter Mahan’s triumph in 1999.
“I couldn't have lost to a better player,” said Goodwin. “He pushed me and challenged me every single shot today. I played my butt off today. I played great. I got beat by a better player. In the end, that's what it's all about. This tournament is just about finding the best player this week.”
The match on the par-72, 7,326-yard Pete Dye layout saw neither player enjoy more than a 2-up lead throughout the 35 holes. With the usual match-play concessions, the two finalists combined for 21 birdies and an eagle. It also included a pair of afternoon weather delays totaling 83 minutes.
Goodwin, who reached the Round of 16 in last year’s Junior Amateur and qualified for match play in the 2015 U.S. Amateur, enjoyed a 1-up lead before the first 36-minute delay just after the players hit their tee shots on the par-3 32nd hole.
Both Lee and Goodwin converted short birdie putts of 12 and 8 feet, respectively, when play resumed, but on the par-4 33rd, Goodwin’s 6-iron approach from 190 yards found the water. Lee two-putted for a winning par to square the match and followed by stuffing a 6-iron to 18 feet on the par-3, 210-yard 34th hole. Goodwin’s tee shot barely cleared the water hazard. His ensuing chip rolled a few feet past the hole, but he never had to putt it after Lee calmly rolled in his birdie putt for a 1-up lead.
On the par-5 35th, Goodwin found the green with his second, while Lee’s approach came up just short in a grass bunker. Goodwin’s long downhill eagle try rolled 9 feet by the hole. Lee followed with a perfect flop shot that stopped 3½ feet from the flagstick. Goodwin pulled his par putt and as Lee was lining up the potential championship-winning putt, the USGA blew the horn because of inclement weather.
Lee, the 2015 Western Australia Amateur champion, smiled as he walked off the green to a waiting cart. When the players returned to the course, it took all of a few seconds for Lee to convert the short birdie putt. He hugged his local Honors Course caddie, Reid Smith, his mother, Clara, and Brad James, Golf Australia’s director of high performance.
“I had a few minutes to come together and just think about that putt, and think about the other putts that I’ve had similar to that one,” said Lee. “I missed a few low, so I thought I would hit it a bit higher. It went right in the middle.”
In the morning 18, Goodwin built a 2-up lead through the first nine holes, only to see Lee win holes 10 and 11 to square the match.
“I guess it was good and bad in a different way,” said Lee of constantly playing catch-up in the morning. “I knew I had to stick my head out and just do what I’ve been doing every single day. Me and Reid did a great job on every shot. Every shot we hit was precise.”
The two halved the next three holes before Goodwin and Lee alternated winning Nos. 15-18, with Lee closing the round with a 14-foot birdie.
“I learned I can play with the best [junior] players in the world,” said Goodwin of his takeaway from the week. “I kind of already knew that, but it’s always nice to just have more experience doing it and everything. My wedges were great this week, and that was one of the things that kept me going the entire time. I just need to polish up my irons a little bit more, though, and I can do that over a period of time.”
When asked to sum up his memories of the week and course, Lee said: “It’s the best course I’ve ever played. It’s a great match-play course. It’s challenging in every way.”
Both finalists are exempt into next month’s U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club outside of Detroit, and are exempt into sectional qualifying for the 2017 U.S. Open. They are also exempt into next year’s U.S. Junior Amateur at Flint Hills National in Andover, Kan. With the age limit changing to 18 next year, Goodwin also will be exempt into the 2018 Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club.
The U.S. Junior Amateur is one of 13 championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.