Strong start crucial for Lee, says Craig Perks
Former Players Championship winner and golf analyst Craig Perks has emphasised the importance of a fast start as a rested Danny Lee faces what has unfortunately become the most significant tournament of his rookie PGA Tour season.
It's all on the line for Lee this week at the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic at Lake Buena Vista, Florida; the New Zealand No 1 is playing for his immediate future at the season-ending event after a disappointing 2012.
He enters the tournament which starts tonight (NZ time) in 164th position on the PGA Tour money list with earnings of US$359,112 and in a dog-fight to retain his card.
Lee probably needs to finish, at worst, in a two-way tie for third to earn enough money to bolt into the top 125, who will have full tour cards for 2013.
If he can't achieve that, a top-10 finish in the 150-strong field might be good enough to sneak into the top 150 overall, which is crucial on two fronts.
Perks suspects Lee would get 15-18 starts on the PGA Tour next year with the conditional status offered to players ranked 126-150, while he'd also go straight into the final stage for qualifying school later this month, thus avoiding the second stage event that Perks labelled "the most excruciating tournament in professional golf".
If the 22-year-old finishes outside the top 150, he'll have no status on the PGA Tour next year unless he successfully progresses through the final two stages of qualifying school.
Q-school is a gruelling four-stage process culminating in the final, six-round event where 156 players who make the final cut battle for 25 PGA Tour cards.
"He's put himself in a precarious position but he's got a chance if he plays well this week," Perks, who in 2002 famously became the first Kiwi to win the Players Championship and these days works mainly as a commentator for The Golf Channel, said yesterday from his home in Louisiana.
"He just needs a few things to go his way and to make a few putts, and hopefully he gets off to a good start. At least if he's playing well [tonight] he can build on that. He played really well at the end of last year [on the second-tier web.com tour] so it seems as though he plays well when things are on the line, and that's certainly the case now."
Perks said getting into the top 150 would be huge for Lee.
"It might give him 15 starts next year which is better than nothing and if you play well enough in those limited starts, you can certainly make enough money to be fully exempt in 2014.
"Otherwise he goes to Q-school with all the pressure on.
"Second stage Q-school is probably the most excruciating event you will play in professional golf because if you do not progress you are back to the web.com tour."
Lee earned his PGA card this year by finishing sixth on the web .com tour (or Nationwide Tour as it was then known) and Perks said no golfer who had tasted life on the PGA Tour wanted to take a step back.
He believed Lee, who only has three top-25s from 25 starts on tour this year, was on an upward curve with top-30s in his past two starts - at the Frys.com Open and McGladrey Classic - and would have benefited enormously from a two-week break.
"He's had a couple of weeks in Dallas to prepare and hopefully he plays well this week," said Perks, who admitted he had been surprised by Lee's struggles this year.
"He has the length off the tee, he makes a lot of birdies - he certainly does make some mistakes . . . but I'd have thought he'd at least have a couple of top-10s," Perks said.