Mi Hyang Lee is one of those golfers making up the wave of terrific young Koreans in women's golf. Most young international golfers who come to the LPGA settle in (or at least make their U.S. residence in) Florida, with California and Texas lagging behind. Not Mi Hyang. She's chosen another state, which is surprising enough; but the one she chose must be a particular culture shock.
Mi Hyang Lee is right at home in South Carolina. A very good article about Lee and how she landed in South Carolina recently appeared in The State newspaper, which is the paper of Lee's adopted hometown - and South Carolina's capital - Columbia. Headlined "Rising LPGA star Mi Hyang Lee calls Columbia home," reporter Bob Gillespie writes about how Mi Hyang wound up working with instructor Puggy Blackmon in the Palmetto State:
The first time Puggy Blackmon laid eyes on Mi Hyang Lee, she and her father, Young Lee, were walking toward the USC golf teams’ training center at Cobblestone Park Golf Club on a cold, rainy day in October 2013. The director of golf for USC’s men’s and women’s teams walked over to greet them – and ran slap into a language barrier.
“They didn’t speak much English, and my Korean was non-existent,” the former Gamecocks and Georgia Tech golf coach said, laughing.
Once Young Lee got across the point that his daughter was “interested in joining our women’s team,” Blackmon said he was intrigued. Then he discovered that Mi Hyang Lee was already where his women players wanted to be: qualified for the LPGA Tour.
Thus did Blackmon and Mi Hyang Lee agree to work together – a relationship that, a year later, has resulted in Lee becoming a rising LPGA star, and a Columbia resident to boot.
Blackmon - who has worked with David Duval and Stewart Cink, among others - believes Mi Hyang is possibly "the next big thing" on the LPGA Tour. She's still only 21 years old, but in her second season on the LPGA in 2014, she recorded her first victory and finished 31st on the money list. She also won a Ladies European Tour tournament this year.
As a rookie in 2013, Lee earned less than $70,000; in 2014, nearly 10 times that much. The improvement in her game is easy to see in her scoring average, and Blackmon explained to Gillespie how he challenged Mi Hyang:
In 2013, she earned about $69,000, with a stroke average of 72.8. “I asked her, ‘How much more do you think you’d have made if you cut that to 71.4?’ ” Blackmon said. “She thought about $20,000 (more); I told her more like $500,000-$700,000, and her eyes got big.”
Sure enough, Lee this year cut her stroke average to 71.47, and her earnings included $186,000 for her win in Japan. “She’s met every goal we established,” Blackmon said. If she can cut her average to 70.2, he said, her earning potential could top $1 million in 2015.
Lee plays at Cobblestone Park golf club in Columbia and plans to buy a house there to make it her permanent American home. She's developed a great relationship with the club, whose members treat her like one of their own. The entire article is well worth reading.