By Martin Blake.
Minjee Lee has become the first “graduate” to dip into her own pocket to help fund Golf Australia’s high performance pathway through its revolutionary Give Back program.
Lee, 24, has paid a percentage of her winnings from 2020, essentially to invest in the next generation of elite amateurs as they seek to emulate her professional achievements.
It is the first formal donation since Give Back – a mandatory program for national or rookie squad players – was formalised in 2015.
“I think it’s a really special thing to do,” said world No.12 Lee, herself a dual recipient of the similar Karrie Webb Scholarship in 2013 and 2014.
“All the things I got out of Golf Australia’s high performance pathway really helped me to this point in my career, so I’m really happy to be able to give back to the kids who are in the program right now.
“I’ve watched `Webby’ giving back for so long, so I feel like I’m following in her footsteps to give back to the kids and leave the next generation of golfers in Australia in a better place.
“That was my goal when I was growing up and about to turn professional, so it’s a great honour for me.”
Give Back is simple. Once athletes reach a world rankings threshold – top 125 for men and top 50 for women – a small percentage of their prizemoney is returned to high performance programs throughout Australia.
Golf Australia high performance general manager Brad James was delighted that all athletes had so enthusiastically bought into the concept.
“It is important for the future of Australian golf to build a system and culture whereby athletes contribute back to the game, particularly in cases where athletes have achieved considerable on-course financial success,” James said.
“All the key stakeholders of Australian golf have played a pivotal role in the success of our international stars and Minjee is no different.
“We are collectively extremely proud of her achievements and we know that her leading role in Give Back will inspire more Australians to play more golf – and just maybe help us find that next champion.”
West Australian Lee has been a fixture in the world top 10 for the past three years.
She has five wins on the LPGA Tour, won on the LET last year and has two Vic Open crowns on home soil.
The Royal Fremantle member was an Olympian in 2016 at Rio and is again almost certain to represent Australia in Tokyo this year.
James said no athlete would be asked to give back for more than five years, nor more than the funds they received through the program when they were participants.
There is no compulsion for players who don’t reach those benchmarks to contribute and endorsement deals aren’t taken into account.
Money will only be given back once an athlete reaches his or her sixth year as a professional. This allows athletes time to establish themselves before the commitment begins.
WPGA Tour chief executive Karen Lunn said GA’s rookie program had been critical in establishing Lee as a world-class player.
“This funding enabled her to embark on her professional career with all of the resources she required and without many of the stresses so many young players have to deal with,” Lunn said.
“It is fantastic to see that now Minjee has firmly established herself as one of the world’s leading players, she is in a position to contribute to the Give Back program which will ensure that other talented young Australians benefit in the future.”
Golf Australia chief executive James Sutherland was delighted Lee had become the first to contribute back to the “groundbreaking” program.
“In giving back to her sport, Minjee is recognising where she has come from and is paving the way for the next generation of talented golfers to follow her and benefit from our high performance program,” Sutherland said.
“This is a great credit to Minjee – and whilst she may be the first, we know she won’t be the last world class Australian golfer to give back.”
*Martin Blake is part of the Golf Australia Media Team