Schoolgirl amateur grabs shock Australian Open lead

Darren Walton |

From after-school golfing day care to a shock Australian Open first-round co-leader.

That’s the remarkable tale of teenage amateur Rachel Lee, who can barely believe it after upstaging the heavyweights with a sizzling six-under 67 start at The Lakes on Thursday.

The 16-year-old schoolgirl, who only qualified on Monday, now shares top spot on the leaderboard with American Jenny Shin.

The pair enjoy a one-stroke lead over former world No.1 and two-time major champion Jiyai Shin, with Lee helping herself to eight birdies, including a delightful tap-in two at the last in driving rain.

“Am I leading the Australian Open? Oh, honestly I never thought that (was possible),” Lee said. 

“Hopefully I can do that for the next three days.”

Even more incredibly, the Year 10 Endeavour Sports High student almost missed her morning tee time.

Missing morning tea at school is one thing, but not on your Australian Open debut.  

“I thought I was at 8.38am and not 8.28am and I’ve learned my lesson. I won’t do that again,” she said. 

“I was putting and my coach says, ‘Rachel, you’re on the tee’. So I just ran out there.” 

Lee grew up idolising her unrelated namesake and Open favourite Minjee Lee, who opened with a steely three-under 70 to be joint sixth.

The younger Lee’s emergence is not altogether different to Minjee’s. The now-dual major winner led the Australian Open through three rounds on her debut as a 14-year-old back in 2010.

But unlike Minjee, who was coached early on by her mother, Rachel Lee’s initial path to the sport was vastly different.

“My parents, they didn’t play golf but I went to like a golf daycare after school, which is not very common,” she said.

“I don’t think I really liked golf at the start.”

But after hitting in nets for two hours two afternoons a week, the then-10-year-old quickly fell in love with the game.

Her success is also a bonus for her school mates, many of whom are getting Friday off to watch Lee play the second round at The Australian, trying to keep her place atop the leaderboard.

The two Shins are her biggest dangers, with fellow PGA Tour star and Lakes club local member Steph Kyriacou one shot further back in equal third at four under with South Africa’s defending champion Ashleigh Buhai.

Minjee Lee fought back into contention after enduring a poor start on her opening nine holes. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

Minjee Lee mounted a spirited back-nine fightback featuring six birdies to keep the family dream alive of her and brother Min Woo completing an historic sibling double at the $3.4 million dual-gender event.

After starting on the 10th and moving to two under through five holes, Lee seemed unsettled by a three-putt bogey on the 15th.

That preceded another dropped shot on the 17th before a dreaded double-bogey on 18 dropped Lee back to two over heading to the turn.

But the world No.5’s blazing back nine had her back right in the mix for an elusive first Open crown.

Japan’s Ayaka Sugihara landed the first ace of the tournament, holing out from 144 metres with a seven iron at the par-3 11th at The Australian.

But she could still only manage a two-over 74 to be eight shots adrift of the lead.