Amateur Danny Lee becomes youngest winner
New Zealand teenager Danny Lee became the youngest player to win a professional European Tour event with victory in the Johnnie Walker Classic at Perth on Sunday.
The 18-year-old produced a superb finish to win the tournament by a single stroke and enhance his reputation as one of golf’s most exciting young players.
Lee, who burst onto the world stage by winning last year’s U.S. amateur championship, held his nerve in a tight finish by making birdies on four of the last six holes for a final round of five-under-par 67 and a winning total of 17-under 271.
“It feels like I’m dreaming at the moment. I won lots of amateur tournaments before and the U.S. Amateur but this is a totally different feeling,” he said at the trophy ceremony.
“It’s a pro event. All I wanted to do was make the cut and play well and get in the top-20. But I played extremely well today and I won it.”
Britain’s Ross McGowan led by two shots with five holes to play after making an eagle at the ninth but two late bogeys cost him his chance of winning his first professional title.
The 26-year-old closed with a 70 to finish tied for second with Japan’s Hiroyuki Fujita (67) and Chile’s Felipe Aguiler (68) at 16 under.
“It was frustrating really. It is one of those when I felt like I played nicely,” McGowan said. “I stuck to my game plan, hit the ball solid and played nicely.
“I just didn’t quite get the breaks. I can take a lot of confidence because I played superbly all week. Hopefully I can get into the winning group in Indonesia next week.”
Fujita, a five-times winner on the Japanese tour, briefly took the lead when he birdied the last two holes but watched his lead slip away when Lee also birdied the 17th and 18th.
“I played a near perfect round. I missed a few putts but still holed some which kind of evened out,” Fujita said. “All credit to Danny Lee as he is a very good player.”
Englishman John Bickerton (71), who had shared the overnight lead with McGowan, also slipped off the pace, finishing alongside France’s Raphael (69) at 15-under at the Vines Resort.
Lee, who is 18 years and 213 days old, beat the previous European Tour record of South African Dale Hayes, who won the 1971 Spanish Open at the age of 18 years and 290 days.
Lee was born in South Korea but moved to New Zealand with his family when he was eight. He made headlines last year when he eclipsed Tiger Woods as the youngest U.S. amateur champion.
That victory earned him an automatic place in this year’s U.S. Masters and U.S. Open, on the condition he retains his amateur status.
By winning the Johnnie Walker Classic, Lee would have been entitled to the first prize of 235,892 euros but does not plan to turn professional until after his first major appearance.
Although he turned down the cash, Sunday’s victory still secured him a minimum two year exemption to the European, Asian and Australasian tours.
“It still feels like I’m in dreamland. Hopefully no-one wakes me up,” Lee said. “Winning a European Tour event, it’s pretty amazing what I’ve done.”