LA QUINTA, Calif. – On Thursday Meen Whee Kim scorched the once-feared TPC Stadium Course at PGA West to the tune of a 9-under 63 that tied the competitive course record. Two days later fellow Korean phenom Dong Hwan Lee nearly matched that, charging in eight birdies for a 64 and a two-stroke lead at golf’s longest week.
It all prompted one caddie to quip, “I came to Tour Q-School and an Asian One (Tour) event broke out.”
Normally the only need for a translator at Q-School is to help decipher babbling Tour types after the six-round grind, but Lee and Kim have shattered the language barrier through four rounds in perfect conditions. Lee is at 19 under, two strokes clear of Kim, who double-bogeyed his last hole on Saturday; Edward Loar (71); Vaughn Taylor (70) and Richard H. Lee (64).
For D.H. (Dong Hwan) Lee, his Tour dream is rapidly becoming a reality, a breakthrough that didn’t seem likely – at least not any time soon – just two years ago.
Lee, 25, won twice on the Japan Golf Tour and was dubbed a rising star when he had to put his career on hold to serve a two-year mandatory term in the Korean military. From December 2008 to January 2011 he worked in a gym on an air force base, mopping floors, folding towels and teaching the wives and children of base officers how to swing a golf club.
“I had no time to hit golf balls,” Lee said through an interpreter. “There were 80 of them (children and wives), but it helped because it reinforced the basic theories of golf for me.”
Every two months Lee was allowed four days off to practice and when his service ended he said it took about six months to feel comfortable on the golf course again.
Lee said the two-year hiatus from pro golf actually helped him put the game in perspective and improve. At the 2007 British Open, Lee played a practice round with his idol K.J. Choi who pulled no punches when asked for advice.
“He told me I hit like a girl,” Lee laughed. “He said I needed a little more power. On Tour you have to have a more diverse array of shots.”
One player who understands what it takes to succeed on Tour is Tom Pernice Jr., who is the oldest player in this week’s field (53) and made the day’s biggest move, jumping from a tie for 84th into a tie for 24th thanks to a 64 on the Nicklaus Tournament course.
Robert Karlsson, who has hovered around the lead all week, struggled with a back-nine 39 on the Stadium course that included double bogeys at Nos. 9 and 17, but is tied for 17th and still on course to retain his Tour card with two rounds to play.