Chuah Choo Chiang, PGA TOUR
Korean golf star K.H. Lee intends to remain carefree in the high stakes BMW Championship this week as he pursues two career goals which is to qualify for a first TOUR Championship and a maiden Presidents Cup appearance.
The two-time PGA TOUR winner tees up at Wilmington Country Club in Delaware as the 33rd ranked player on the FedExCup Playoffs and Eligibility Points List and ninth on the International Team standings, just outside the qualifying criteria.
The top-30 after this week’s US$15 million showpiece will advance into the Playoffs Finale at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, while the top-8 on the International Team standings will earn automatic selection to face the United States in the Presidents Cup next month.
“It would be a great honour to be able to play in the Presidents Cup and make the TOUR Championship. But instead of putting added pressure on myself to do those things, I’m just very grateful to be able to play in the Playoffs for two years in a row. Yes, those are big goals of mine but I’m appreciative of the year I’ve had,” said Lee.
The 30-old Korean is amongst five Asian golfers featuring in the 70-man BMW Championship, which starts Thursday (U.S. time). Countryman Sungjae Im, ranked 11th, and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who is 15th, look secure for a place at East Lake while rookie Joohyung “Tom” Kim (25th) and Si Woo Kim (53rd) will be hoping to punch their tickets to the TOUR Championship next week.
This season, Lee successfully defended his title at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, joining an exclusive group comprising of Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson to win back-to-back titles. He also registered seven other top-25s, including a tied 20th at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship, the first of three Playoffs events.
He has found himself in a similar position as last season where he agonisingly missed out on a spot in the TOUR Championship by one rung in 31st place. Lee made a costly bogey on the 72nd hole at the penultimate event which ended his hopes.
“Again, very similar situation to last year,” reflected Lee. “The only thing I can do is to play the best that I can and to have the best tournament I can possibly have to get myself into the TOUR Championship. If I finish 31st again, then we’re going to reach out to Baskin Robbins … 31 flavours right, for our new sponsorship,” Lee joked in reference to the American ice cream chain’s famous 31 flavours slogan.
Lee reckons the 7,500-yard Wilmington layout, which is hosting its first ever PGA TOUR event in its club’s history, will be a bombers’ paradise. “The golf course seems to be very big, with wide fairways. I think it’s key to hit the driver well here and focusing on driving and making sure we’re far down there and also on the fairway,” said Lee, who is presently the 45th ranked player in the world.
“I’m very happy with the way I played last week, four consistent rounds. What I’m focussing on recently is the consistency of having high energy levels from day one to day four, and not having a lot of up and downs and keeping my rounds consistent.”