In terms of hard acts to follow it could be argued that Min Woo Lee and Kiran Day will be in an unenviable position when they tee it up at the US Amateur Championship in California next week.

Not that either of them would agree with you.

A record Australian contingent of 11 players are set to compete at the tournament – the largest representation from any country behind the United States – just 12 months after Curtis Luck etched his name on the winner’s trophy and alongside the names of golf royalty such as Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

The consequences of that victory have been far-reaching for Luck, who turned 21 this week, as starry-eyed youth has been fast-forwarded into the professional big time of Augusta National and the PGA Tour.

That Luck has handled the transition so adroitly is a testament to his character.

But if Luck’s success has shone a brighter focus on the Aussies in the field this year, you can hardly sense it when you speak to his contemporaries from Western Australia.

For both Lee and Day the celebration of Luck’s success is welcomed but any notion it has created added pressure on them is dismissed by the simple fact the opportunity just to play at such a storied event is to be savoured.

Day has already admitted this will be the “biggest week of my career” while for world number 44 Lee, who won the US Junior Amateur Championship last year, it is another opportunity to learn against the world’s best amateurs.

“I’ve just got to knuckle down and show them what I’ve got,” Lee told GolfWA ahead of the tournament, which begins on Monday.

“It would be great to do what Curtis did last year, but we will worry about that later. For now, I’m trying to be the best player I can be and working harder than ever.”

If the geographical links to Luck are inescapable – Day is a fellow member of Luck’s at Cottesloe – Royal Fremantle’s Lee has already built the foundations of his own reputation in the States.

In winning the US Junior Amateur in Tennessee last August he replicated his elder sister and three-time LPGA Tour winner Minjee – making them the first brother-sister combination to secure that feat – while he showcased his considerable long-driving talent to US audiences earlier this year when he out drove Jason Day at a promo event during the Sage Valley Junior Invitational in South Carolina.

Lee was also runner-up at the Australian Amateur in January, a result made all the more impressive by the inflated number of Australians that have headed to the Riviera and Bel-Air Country Clubs in California.

With many outside observers likely to keep a keen interest in the Antipodean challenge next week Day believes that is only a good thing.

“I think that our strong representation just goes to show how the level in Australia is continuing to improve and with Curtis having won it last year – it has to inspire the next wave of guys to go and get their own success,” Day said.

“I believe we have 11 Aussies playing this year’s US Am which is a record. Only a few were exempt so it’s really cool to see a lot of us get through qualifying which is always tough with the depth of players over here.”

Day booked his place in the 312-player field late last month when he qualified down the road at Bayonet Golf Club with a four-under 138 at the two-round event to finish in a tie for second place.

Since then the 21-year-old, who captained Western Australian at this year’s Interstate Series, has been busily preparing himself for a tournament he admits will be unlike any other.

“Without a doubt, going into an event like this will bring with it some different emotions and challenges,” Day said.

“The magnitude of the event itself, the TV cameras, the crowds and 300 of the best amateurs in the world. However we have all played enough events to know how to go about our own preparation and I’ll just be going about my processes as I would with any other event.

“With that being said, it’s going to be a lot of fun and I can’t wait to tee it up.”

Maintaining that sense of perspective is a hallmark of Day’s young career and his level-headed approach to life was in full evidence when he spoke about how he manages golf with his university studies on the ‘Inside The Ropes’ podcast before flying out for the winter.

Day has become accustomed to dealing with long periods on the road and believes he is fully prepared for the upcoming challenge after both he and Lee attended the recent Golf Australia national camp in Houston.

“By the time I fly home on the 21st of August, it will nearly be three months since I left Perth for London,” said Day, who caught up with GolfWA while he was waiting for a delayed flight in the US.

“Being away for this length of time comes with its challenges. Managing being away from my coach, various time zones, airports, weather conditions and golf courses are all part of what we do.

“However, this being my third major international trip, I have found I have managed myself physically and technically as well as I ever have, culminating in me playing the best I have all trip at my US Am qualifier a few weeks ago in California.”

Lee feels equally confident about his game heading into next week’s tournament after defying his own expectations to reach the quarter-finals of the Western Amateur last week.

The teenager won through to the matchplay from a four-man playoff – an impressive feat in its own – before a thumping 7&5 win over American Nick Hardy when he put on a putting clinic.

It was a performance so impressive that Hardy’s dad, John, was moved to congratulate Lee on social media, figuratively adding that his son “ran into a buzz saw”.

“(I feel) great – coming off a great finish at Western Am which had the best amateur field in the world,” Lee said.

“Winning the playoff to get into the matchplay portion and then winning my round-of-16 match -it is an achievement just making the matchplay.

“At the beginning of the week if someone asked me if you would take making the matchplay, I would have said yes.

“So yes, confidence is great and I’m loving the way I’m swinging it at the moment. And yep the putting is still doing well!”

Lee, who is the 44th-ranked amateur in the world, has built towards his best form after enduring a frustrating start to his northern hemisphere tour while in the United Kingdom.

It was Lee’s first trip to play in the UK and, while he did reach the last-32 of the British Amateur Championship, it proved a steep learning curve.

“I started off poorly with the UK trip,” he said. “It was the first time being there and playing so it was new but a great experience.

“In the US I have played much better, I have a good track record in the US with a lot of good finishes.”

Lee’s competitive spirit will ensure that results are always important, but he is also smart enough to know that adapting and learning from the experience of being away from home, and enduring different course lay-outs, are just as vital.

“Switching on and off, it’s important to do that because it’s tough being away from home for so long,” said Lee.

“When I ‘m practicing or playing – switch on. Off the course I switch off and have fun.

“I love the travel. Yes I miss home and my family and friends but every city I’ve been to I have had a host family and they were so great to me which made me feel like home.

“I love playing around the world on beautiful courses and meeting new people.

“I’ve made changes a lot along the way because every tournament and, even every round, you learn something about yourself and you just adjust to play better.

“I feel very prepared going into the US Amateur, I played great at the Western Amateur and things are looking great.”

The US Amateur Championship begins at the Riviera and Bel-Air Country Clubs on Monday with the highest profile amateur players in the men’s game set to be in action including Brad Dalke, who Luck defeated in last year’s final, and Chile’s world number one Joaquin Niemann.

New South Welshman Harrison Endycott is the highest-ranked Australian in the field as world number 17.

:: You can follow Kiran and Min Woo’s progress at the US Amateur Championship by clicking on this link to the USGA’s official website.

Tags:  , ,