Lee hit balls on the practice fairways, played at Bay Hill in Orlando and had practice rounds at Augusta National with Australians while using the Florida house as a base under the watchful eye of Smith. But that night would be crucial to his resurgence in the following month.
Lee would sit at the kitchen table in Florida with Appleby and just talk golf and Augusta. It set him up to just miss knockout phase of the Dell World Match Play before he shot a 30 on the front nine at Augusta in the final round to take him to 14th in the US Masters.
That was Min Woo Lee, the top 50 player.
“The athletes that are based overseas already have the knowledge and want to give that back to those coming through,” said Luke Mackey, the manager of the Golf Australia house. “We want to drive that and support that the best we can.”
While the chat with Appleby was a small part of the week, it was invaluable for Lee. So was being around other young players on the same path.
“That ability to chat to players, whether they be male or female, about the challenges they go through means they end up having that mental shift from peer review and that’s important,” Mackey said. “This is a base, it’s home. There is vegemite and AFL on the telly. You can have a training camp, you can have a week off, but the biggest thing is there is a lot of Aussies here to talk to.”
The house is available 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 a few of the best courses in America. However, it is just as much about being in an Australian environment for the players.
When Jed Morgan and Su Oh sat next to each other as the Australian PGA winners at Royal Queensland in January, they were quick to reference the house in Florida, where they had met in 2021. Now, nearly every Australian elite golfer uses 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 sports science background. “It’s not a golf prison camp. You could come here on a weekend and everyone is watching the AFL and NRL from back home. We have just made it to give the 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 getting the next generation of golfers to play on the PGA and LPGA tours. The data shows if you get through the first five years on tour, you will have a successful career.
“At an AFL or NRL club, if you’re a first-year recruit you have access to all the knowledge of the older players,” Mackey said. “In a sport like golf, you don’t always have that available to you, away from the golf course or tournament setting. That is something we are very passionate about creating for a younger golfer here in Florida.”
It was what Lee needed, a mix of golf and relaxation.
“There is a lot more to it than just coaching with players like Min Woo,” Smith said. “Players like him have the talent, it’s about working out your game, that’s why I’m here. It can be lonely out here when things are going wrong. This place offers a bit of Australia and it’s exactly what I thought it would be. To have something like this is a big asset because you’re not alone. It’s not you against the world.
“It’s just as important for these guys to be around Australians, because Australians treat each other differently to what other players do. Australians treat each other with a little bit of irreverence, and you don’t get that if you surround yourself with yes men on tour.”
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