Can Minjee Lee Win Back-to-Back Majors? In a Word: Yes
Winning back-to-back majors is a rare feat on the LPGA Tour. Inbee Park is the only player to pull it off since the LPGA changed its schedule to having five majors in 2013, when the Hall of Famer won three in a row to start the year. Following Minjee Lee's U.S. Women's Open victory at Pine Needles, she could add her third major title in her last five starts with a KPMG Women’s PGA Championship victory.
While the Australian's clubs arrived a day late on Monday, she's relishing taking on Congressional's arduous set up in her first visit to Washington D.C. since taking a trip with her family as a young child.
“I like to embrace the challenge,” Lee said of playing in major championships, “and I think the harder golf courses get, the better I play. You do have to focus a little bit more on smaller details. So I think that's where I kind of excel. And when I play under pressure, that is where I think I excel as well.”
A Major Moment for @minjeegolf in France.#EvianChamp | #KPMGWomensPGA pic.twitter.com/N7JsvfZAlp— KPMG Women's PGA Championship (@KPMGWomensPGA) July 25, 2021
Lee’s capitalizing on feeling more confident in majors following her seven-shot come-from-behind 2021 Amundi Evian Championship victory. The No. 3 player in the Rolex Women’s World Ranking’s 38-under par since last year at majors, the best on the LPGA by four strokes ahead of 2021 KPMG Women’s PGA Champion winner Nelly Korda.
Lee fueled her scoring run, including the all-time 72-hole scoring record of 271 at the 77th U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles earlier this month, with more pop with her drives, averaging hitting it 270 yards off the tee in 2022. It’s ten yards further off the tee than her career average and eight yards longer than 2021. During the offseason, she did speed exercises, particularly throwing a medicine ball around.
“I'm kind of a gym nut,” Lee explained of her off-season workout regimen. “I like working out, and I think it's a little bit a stress reliever as well. It's fun for me to work on these aspects of my body and see if I can get stronger in certain parts of it as well.”
The distance is the driving force behind the 26-year-old’s dominant strokes gained: ball striking. She’s averaging 3.29 per round, with Brooke Henderson in second place at 1.89. That dominance is correlating to her leading the tour in birdies this year. The Australian leads the LPGA in birdies this year, posting 4.8 per round and birdieing 26.7 percent of her holes played. It’s a five-and-a-half percent jump from last year and an almost eight percent leap from 2020.
Birdieing at such a rapid rate has led to consistent success for Lee. Over her last 15 starts, dating back to the 2021 AIG Women's Open, Lee's posted seven top-5 finishes and only one finish outside the top 25, including victories at the Cognizant Founder's Cup and the U.S. Women's Open.
An incredible week of amazing play by @MinjeeGolf at the #USWomensOpen.— KPMG Women's PGA Championship (@KPMGWomensPGA) June 5, 2022
Congratulations on your second Major, we'll see you at Congressional in just 15 days! #KPMGWomensPGA pic.twitter.com/3i85vqDSGS
That scoring profile leaps off the page as a heavy favorite this week, but if Lee had any blemish of her odds coming into the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, it’s that the Australian hasn’t posted a top-10 at the tournament yet. In seven career starts, her best finish is a T12 in 2016 at Sahalee Country Club.
Oddly enough, a lack of a top-10’s correlated to major titles for Lee. Before her victories at the Amundi Evian Championship and U.S. Women's Open, she hadn't posted a top-10 in either tournament in six and eight starts, respectively. She now looks to continue that trend at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship and add a third major championship to her mantle, becoming the first player to win two majors in a season since world
No. 1 Jin Young Ko in 2019.
“I really want [the trophy] because it's so big,” Lee said, “and I really want to hold it up. Two majors in one season, that's just, I don't know, overtaking my dream [season].”