Rachel Lee has earmarked herself as a star of the future with a thrilling sudden-death playoff win in the 2023 Women’s NSW Open Golf Regional Qualifying tournament at Mollymook.
The 16-year-old year ten student from Avondale Golf Club held her nerve over the final holes around the testing Hilltop to force herself into the playoff.
With Queenslander Rhianna Lewis and Sydneysider Chizuru Ueda in the clubhouse at minus one, Lee came to the last, needing a birdie. She didn’t disappoint: first by splitting the fairway with one of the drives of the day, she then followed it up with a peerless hybrid from 168 metres to reach the green before two-putting for birdie to book her playoff spot.
Lee admitted she had no idea where she stood coming to the last; a playoff was the last thing on her mind.
“I had no idea where I was on the last, to be honest, but it was a short par five, and I knew I could make a birdie; that’s all I was thinking about., I was just trying to do my best.”
Then, with a large gallery surrounding the playoff hole (the par-three ninth), Lee calmly slotted a six iron from 150 metres to about 40 feet for a two-putt par to claim her first victory against a professional field.
“This course is a very hard course to manage, and I think I did it pretty well,” Lee said after her win.
Related Links: Leaderboard
The youngest player in the field, Lee admitted she tried to treat it as a regular round despite being paired alongside her childhood coach and one of her golfing heroes, Sarah Oh.
“I’ve played with Sarah a couple of times, so I was relaxed; there was a bit more pressure, but it was fun to play with the others.”
The win is also the biggest of her young career, and locking away a place in the 2024 NSW Women’s Open felt particularly special.
“I’m looking forward to playing at Magenta Shores. It is a great course, I’m very honored. and this is a very special moment for me,” she beamed.
Although beaten in a playoff, Sydney’s Chizuru Ueda was delighted that her place in the 2024 NSW Women’s Open Golf Championship was secure.
Despite losing the playoff, the 29-year-old, who has been on tour for about five years, said she was happy with how she played.
“I changed my routine, and I think it is working,
“I’ve not had a win nor been in a playoff before, so there were a few nerves,” Chizuru grinned. “But it feels great to know I’ve got a spot in the Open. It’s at Magenta (shores) and it’s a lovely course, so I’m looking forward to playing it.”
For several of the other hopefuls, a day that started brightly soon faded.
Playing in the final group alongside Lee and overnight leader Claire Shin, two-time Women’s NSW Open Champ Sarah Oh began the day like it was from times of old, first catching Shin, then for much of the final nine battling for the lead with Chizuru in the group ahead.
Sadly, she had a final hole she would probably rather forget. Forced to lay up, she hit her approach uncharacteristically long, then failed to get up and down for par to drop out of the playoff.
18-year-old Shin, who just eight months ago could’ve lifted the NSW Women’s Open Trophy at Tuncurry except for an almost miracle sand save during a playoff from the eventual champion Momoka Kobori, had a day to forget, finishing at even par after a three-over 75.
Elmay Viking, the last of the final foursome, battled a series of errant shots for much of her round, eventually carding a 74 to finish one over.
Local hope Kelsey Bennett made a move early in the day, getting back to one over at one stage, but fell away on the back nine. A consolation birdie on the last allowed her to sign for a 72 and a share of 7th place.