As Ki Taek Lee prepares to tee off in his first PGA Tour event today in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, he revealed a bit of a lesson he learned from the Arizona State University head coach Tim Mickelson earlier this season that has helped the former La Quinta High School star as a player, even if he didn’t feel too good about it at the time.
“I was in a little trouble,” Lee said.
It happened back in late October or early November. Lee was playing in a qualifying event for the Sun Devils, having played in two of the Sun Devils’ first four events of the year even though Lee is a freshman. But the former La Quinta High School star was struggling a bit with his game. On this one day, Lee said he had something like seven three-putts. A frustrated Lee was in the middle of the fairway and a teammate asked him how far it was to the pin. Lee responded with something like, well, it’s about 155 yards, I think.
Unfortunately for Lee, Mickelson, the long-time ASU head coach and brother of PGA Tour star Phil, heard Lee’s comment. And Mickelson demanded to know the exact yardage. Lee gave him a yardage. But Lee then airmailed the green with his shot.
“I was the only one in the group to bogey the hole,” Lee said.
The next day, Lee was in a conference room talking to Mickelson about his scholarship, his commitment to the game, his willingness to give 100 percent, does Lee want to take his game somewhere other than Arizona State, those kinds of serious topics.
“He was trying to teach me a lesson,” Lee said. “He was trying to say, hey, you have to give 100 percent here. This is college golf, and it’s serious.”
To press his point, Mickelson informed Lee that Lee had originally been tabbed to go to Hawaii for the three-day Kauai Invitational as a coach’s choice. But Mickelson had changed his mind, and Lee was staying home.
“I always wanted to go to Hawaii, and now I wasn’t going to get to go,” Lee said.
But the lesson was one Lee learned. In the Monday’s qualifying for the Waste Management event, Lee bogeyed the eighth hole, his 17th hole of the day, on the McCormick Ranch course in Scottsdale to drop to 6-under. Lee didn’t think 6-under was going to be good enough. He said he stood and stared at the missed four-footer for par for about a minute.
But instead of going downhill, Lee remembered the lessons from Mickelson of never giving up. He hit a big drive on the ninth hole, hit a second shot to 25 feet and rammed in a 25-foot putt for a birdie to get to 7-under. That putt turned out to be the margin of Lee automatically qualifying for the Waste Management event or going into a four-player playoff for three spots at 6-under.
So Mickelson did a good job in teaching the lesson. And Lee did a good job of learning.