Lee has work ethic to succeed, says Perks
If there is one thing Craig Perks knows about Danny Lee, it's that New Zealand's top golfer has both the talent and, perhaps more crucially, the work ethic to eventually succeed on the PGA Tour.
The 2002 Players Championship winner witnessed that firsthand in March last year when the web.com tour (then Nationwide Tour) made its stop at Le Triomphe Country Club in Broussard for the Louisiana Open.
Perks follows the second-tier tour closer than most in his role as lead analyst for the Golf Channel, but he was also then director of golf at Le Triomphe, which meant he was able to make some interesting observations.
What he remembers most vividly of that week is not the four tournament rounds but the practice days, when Lee would be the first player on the range, play 18 holes, hit the putting and chipping greens, and then be the last guy to leave the range at the end of the day.
"I vividly remember last year, and what I will say is this: from what I've witnessed, he's one of the hardest workers I've ever seen," Perks said from his home in Louisiana. "Perhaps he even overtrains but you know deep down he's going to put the work in."
The talent component goes without saying; you don't become the youngest ever winner of the US Amateur Championship (eclipsing a certain Tiger Woods) and win on the European Tour as an amateur without some serious game.
So why then has the 22-year-old from Rotorua struggled in his first year as a PGA Tour regular, so much so that he will probably have to successfully progress through two rounds of qualifying school just to retain his status next year?
It's a question that has most observers stumped, particularly after his success on the web.com tour last year when he won once, had nine top-10s (including a tie for seventh that week in Broussard) and finished sixth in the order of merit to secure his PGA Tour card.
"He played so brilliantly on that tour last year and he was so consistent, I think he led in scoring and was third in the all-around," says Perks, who retired from top level golf in 2007 and is focusing on television work in the United States.
"Danny was just blossoming and I just thought he had taken that next step. For what he accomplished at such a young age, winning the US Amateur at 18 and the Johnnie Walker Classic as an amateur on the European Tour, I think a lot of it came too easily for him."
Perks said it was "incredibly tough" for any rookie to consistently compete against the best in the world, let alone a 22-year-old.
"When I was at rookie orientation they drilled into us the fact we had to go out there every week against guys who have been on tour for 10 to 20 years, they pick the courses they like to play and you've got to step up and compete.
"With that being said, I still thought he would perform better. He has the length off the tee, he's makes a lot of birdies - he certainly does make some mistakes, which you can understand at his age - but just having three top-25s is surprising," Perks said.
Lee's busy schedule has raised eyebrows - he's currently playing his 26th and final PGA Tour event of the year, more than any of the top-10 money earners in 2012 - but Perks said there were two schools of thought on this.
"At his age there is the idea of quality over quantity but it's hard in your rookie year, because you want to play every event you can and keep playing until you secure your card," he said.
If Lee doesn't keep his card for 2013, Perks has one piece of advice - fully commit to getting it back immediately.
"Once you've played the PGA Tour and you happen to fall back, you have to commit mentally to what you're doing. If you decide [the web.com tour] is the best avenue to get back to the PGA Tour, and it is, you have to commit to it 100 per cent.
"Sometimes people flail in the middle, they say ‘OK, I can get a couple of starts here, I can play a few events in Europe, I can get a few starts in Asia', but he can draw good experience from what he did last year when he finished sixth."
Lee was 164th on the PGA Tour moneylist with earnings of US$359,112 (NZ$438,116) heading into the final event this week, the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, and needs a top-three finish to retain his card.
That is looking a long way off after a two-over par 74 in yesterday's opening round to be in a share of 96th, 10 shots behind leader Charlie Wi, of South Korea.