KH Lee in action (Getty Images); Inset Top. – Lee with Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson and Kevin Na; Inset bottom: Lee with family. Pics: Courtesy KH Lee
When I earned my first PGA TOUR victory at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, one of the best messages I received was from my parents who sent a congratulatory video. They were so happy to see my success but it gave me mixed feelings, both happy and sad. Like many, my parents have sacrificed a lot for me. They have supported me in golf since I was young and it has been a while that I’ve seen them in person due to Covid-19. Through my years in golf, they have never told me to quit the sport even when my game was not going well. My father had wanted to be a baseball player when he was young but his parents were against it. As he couldn’t achieve what he wanted, he made sure he supported my dreams.
I followed my dad to the driving range when I was about 13 and eventually took some lessons. I started much later than my friends but I enjoyed golf a lot because the instructor was very encouraging. He even bragged to others about my swing and this boosted my confidence and made me work even harder. My mother, who was a violin teacher, tried to teach me violin but it did not go well. When she asked me to practice a piece for 10 times, I would haphazardly do it without concentrating. Golf was different. It was just pure fun for me and I could spend hours at the range.
By 18, I got into the Korean National Team and the highlight was winning the team gold medal in the 2010 Asian Games. It was an epic moment. I recall the experience being a rocky road as we were expected to win a medal and there was so much pressure on us. Our practice rounds went poorly but when competition began, we played almost free-spirited and did not feel the pressure. Our teamwork came together and we ended up with the gold. Golf is a funny sport … you can struggle with it and then, it comes back in a flash.
Throughout my golf journey, my father has been a massive encouragement and has helped in every way possible and been there since the beginning. We would go abroad together to practice every winter and he would be my chauffer to all my golf tournaments. My mother, meanwhile, stayed at home to run the family restaurant business. Such was my father’s support that he travelled with me to the U.S. when I played on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2016. I knew he had a difficult time with the food as it was hard to find decent Korean or Asian restaurants. To make matters worse, he had to pull out a tooth during one of our trips! As the only child, my parents gave me everything that they could and I cannot sufficiently show my appreciation to them.
All the hard work and sacrifice paid off with my win at the AT&T Byron Nelson. It has been five years since I came over to the U.S and my dream was always to win on the best tour in the world. I got emotional as I walked up to the 18th green with my lead and I was glad I won the battle with myself and this victory will open up so many opportunities. I enjoyed every second of winning and one of cool memories was seeing K.J. Choi waiting by the greenside even though he was not playing that day. He congratulated and gave me a hug. Now, I also want to help young Korean golfers just like how K.J. Choi does it. He is a source of encouragement and kept telling me I would eventually get my win. Those words are powerful when you are having a hard time.
I honestly wasn’t expecting to win though. My focus that week was to regain the good feeling with my putter, which had been my biggest challenge previously. I replaced the putter at the start of the week having used it for the past six years and went out to the course with only wedges and the new putter for my practice round. I played nine on Tuesday and another nine in the pro-am and miraculously, the new putter worked so well.
Winning got me into the following week’s PGA Championship for the first time and although I missed the cut at Kiawah Island, I enjoyed a great memory by playing a practice round with Phil Mickelson, who won the tournament at age of 50! I’ve never met Phil before and it was great seeing how he practiced and the love Phil has for golf. He was so passionate with every shot that he hit and it is incredible a 50-year-old like him has the energy and drive like a rookie. I can imagine myself being bored or tired of golf at his age but I literally saw how he genuinely enjoys golf. It was such a big motivation.
I love golf as much as Phil does and I wish I can be like him. When I get a chance to play with good players, I have a strong urge to play well and I feel this is one of the reasons why all serious golfers want to be on the PGA TOUR. You get an insight of the mentality of all the great players which I think is amazing.
Previously, I have said I have two goals in life – one is to become the No. 1 player in the world and the other is to be the sexiest golfer in the world! After my win at the Byron Nelson, my goals went viral as many golfers and fans were so amused by this story. Being sexy to me means being a muscular guy. This is my dream but I think it may not be possible as I enjoy eating too much. Occasionally, I will try to skip dinner after a big lunch but when dinner time comes, I am normally hungry again. Maybe I’ll just stay hungry for more wins on the PGA TOUR.
With the Regular Season concluding in August, my goal is to get into the TOUR Championship. Only the Top-30 from the FedExCup standings get in and I have never achieved this before. Now that I’m in good position, I’ll give it my best. Another goal is to play well in the majors, including this week’s U.S. Open, and I know I need more experience to prepare for it. I need to continue to work hard to achieve my goals and keep focusing on the mental and physical approach. I have my first win and I want to win more. It is a great feeling to get it done and I cannot wait for the next one. I would like to make my people and my team happy, especially my parents.
K.H. Lee is a former gold medallist at the 2010 Asian Games and a one-time winner on the PGA TOUR. You can watch Lee and the PGA TOUR on Eurosport India and GOLFTV powered by PGA TOUR.