Lee hit balls on practice fairways, played at Bay Hill in Orlando and had practice rounds at Augusta National with Australians while using the Florida home as a base under the watchful eye of Smith. But that night would be crucial for its resurgence the following month.
Lee would sit at the kitchen table in Florida with Appleby and talk only about golf and Augusta. That saw him narrowly miss the knockout stage of the Dell World Match Play before shooting a 30 out of the front nine in Augusta in the final round to take him to 14th in the US Masters.
It was Min Woo Lee, the top 50 player.
“Overseas-based athletes already have the knowledge and want to pass it on to those arriving,” said Golf Australia house manager Luke Mackey. “We want to drive this and support this as best we can.”
While the conversation with Appleby was only a small part of the week, it was invaluable to Lee. It was the same to be surrounded by other young players on the same path.
“That ability to talk to players, whether they’re male or female, about the challenges they’re going through means that they end up having that mental shift from peer review and that’s important,” said said Mackey. “It’s a base, it’s my home. There’s vegemite and AFL on TV. You can have a training camp, you can have a week off, but the most important thing is that there are plenty of Aussies here to talk to.
The house is accessible to elite amateurs and professionals. It has its own gym and is surrounded by some of the best golf practice facilities in the world as well as some of the best courses in America. However, it’s just as much about being in an Australian environment for the players.
When Jed Morgan and Su Oh sat next to each other as Australian PGA winners at Royal Queensland in January, they were quick to reference home in Florida, where they s ‘were encountered in 2021. Now almost all of Australia’s elite golfers use it, attracted by the low-key vibe.
“Just walking one of the dogs can also change a mindset, and that’s important,” said Mackey, who has a background in sports science. “This is not a golf prison camp. You could come here on a weekend and everyone is watching the AFL and NRL from your place. We just did this to give players the best chance to perform.
The house is a joint project of Golf Australia and the Australian Institute of Sport with the aim of bringing the next generation of golfers to play on the PGA and LPGA tours. Data shows that if you spend the first five years on tour, you will have a successful career.
“At an AFL or NRL club, if you’re a first-year rookie, you have access to all the knowledge older players have,” Mackey said. “In a sport like golf, you don’t always have that available away from the golf course or the tournament setting. It’s something we’re very passionate about creating for a young golfer here in Florida.
It was what Lee needed, a mix of golf and relaxation.
“There’s a lot more to it than just coaching with players like Min Woo,” Smith said. “Players like him have talent, it’s about working on your game, that’s why I’m here. You can feel lonely here when things are bad. This place offers a bit of Australia and that’s exactly what I thought it would be. Having something like this is a big plus because you’re not alone. It’s not you against the world.
“It’s just as important for these guys to be around Aussies, because Aussies treat each other differently than other players do. Aussies treat each other with a bit of irreverence, and you don’t get that if you surround yourself with men yes on tour.
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