Australian Contingent Headlines International Field at Sahalee Players Championship

Min Woo Lee
Min Woo Lee

by Paul Ramsdell

While treeless golf courses seem to be in vogue right now, especially with the USGA currently taking its U.S. Open to four virtually treeless venues in a row, one specialized golf shot is getting left behind.

The stinger.

It's a low, hard shot that can run forever when executed properly, and it's a great recovery shot at a place like tree-lined Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash., where the 72-hole stroke-play Sahalee Players Championship (SPC) will be held July 5-7.

Min Woo Lee, who leads a contingent of six golfers from the Australian National Team playing in the SPC this year, put that shot to good use in winning the U.S. Junior Amateur last year, and he learned it from one of the best.

After watching Tiger Woods put on a clinic shortly before the 2016 U.S. Junior Amateur, Lee put on his own clinic in winning the USGA championship with a 2-and-1 victory over Noah Goodwin, another entrant in the SPC this year.

"I got a few notes from him (Woods) on how to hit a stinger. My brain clicked on a few things when my misses were left and right. What he said at the clinic kind of just clicked. I took everything he said with the stinger," Lee told Golfweek after winning the U.S. Junior last year at The Honors Course in Tennessee.

James Grierson
James Grierson

"I've used it awhile, but this week I've probably hit it the best. I knew I had an advantage because it came out low and also like with the run... It was a big advantage. It came in handy."

That shot, and a myriad of others, has lifted Lee to the No. 32 spot in the world amateur rankings by the Scratch Players Group. After winning the U.S. Junior, he was the runner-up in the Australian Amateur and won the Western Australian Amateur and the Royal Fremantle Amateur.

Leading amateur players from Australia gain a ton of experience playing overseas in world-class events.

The Sahalee Players Championship in Sammamish fits perfectly into that scenario. It includes 66 of the leading amateurs from around the world, and the championship was ranked among the top 25 amateur events in the world by the Scratch Players Group before taking a one-year hiatus last summer to host the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

Other Australians in the field, who will play 18 holes on July 5, then 36 on July 6 and finish up with 18 on July 7, are Cameron John, ranked No. 110; Matias Sanchez (No. 348), Kiran Day (No. 495), Daniel List (No. 667) and James Grierson (No. 683).

No Australian has won the SPC as of yet, but it's not an easy title to win. Past champions include Kyle Stanley (2006), who won on the PGA Tour last weekend. Other past champions who have gone on to impressive professional careers include Ryan Moore (2004), Daniel Summerhays (2007), Nick Taylor (2009), Peter Uihlein (2010), Jason Gore (1996), Arron Oberholser (1997) and Casey Martin (1994).

With his No. 110 ranking and international experience, John also is expected to be in contention to be the first Aussie winner of the SPC. Last summer, with the help of an amateur course record of 63 at Gullane, John won the Scottish Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship.

"I'm certainly pretty happy with that performance," he said after his victory.

"I won the Victorian Amateur and the Argentina Amateur Championship in November, but this is my first time playing golf in the UK and the biggest event I have won."

At 18 years old, John already has seen plenty of the world's golf courses, and airports.

"I love flying and traveling," he said. "I think if I had it my way and I could afford it I'd be traveling 51 of the 52 weeks in a year. I'd have to say hello to mum and dad somewhere."

To follow the Sahalee Players Championship, bios of each competitor as well as tee times and pairings are available by visiting www.sahaleeplayerschampionship.com. Once the competition begins, live scoring will be available at that site as well.

The Pacific Northwest Golf Association (PNGA) began partnering with the Sahalee 15 years ago to create the "Western Swing" by scheduling its Pacific Northwest Men's Amateur Championship the week following the SPC, to give elite amateur players the opportunity to compete in two quality events on the same trip to the Northwest. The 116th PNGA Men's Amateur Championship will be held July 10-15, 2017 at Emerald Valley Golf & Resort in Creswell, Ore. Visit www.thepnga.org for more information.