LA QUINTA, Calif. — Min Woo Lee is making his first start in the American Express this week, and it is the Australian star’s first start as a full member of the PGA Tour after playing much of last year on a temporary membership. So far, Lee likes what he sees in the desert.
“The weather’s unbelievable. It’s my first time in America this time of the year, which is weird, I guess,” he said. “I was in Vancouver last week and I saw snow for the first time, outside the car, so that was pretty cool. Normally, I’m in Australia or Dubai where it’s 100 degrees, so it’s quite nice to, I guess, see a white Christmas.”
As for the tournament’s reputation for having low scores, Lee said he generally plays well after a break like he’s had after winning two tournaments late in the year on the DP World Tour, including the Australian Open.
“I’m really excited. This week’s going to be fun. I know it’s, there’s a lot of birdies and the scoring’s really low, so it’s, I guess it’s a nice easier (start), in a way, but you still got to play really well, and hit your drives well and wedge it close. So, like Jon Rahm said, it’s a putting contest and, yeah, if you get on the green, hopefully you hole some putts.”
Rahm was caught disparaging the tournament a few years ago in a viral video, calling the event a “putting contest.” When Rahm won the event for the second time, he opened his press conference by saying he was glad he had won the putting contest.
Lee shot 7-under 65 Thursday and is tied for 14th entering the second round.
Alex Smalley, ranked 88th in the world ranking after a year that saw him finish 60th in the FedEx Cup points race, has taken on a job this year as an ambassador for the national First Tee youth development organization. In a pre-tournament encounter this week, Smalley met with a member of the First Tee of the Coachella Valley, Sasha Gomez of La Quinta, a 14-year-old from La Quinta Middle School who has been part of the First Tee since she was 5.
“First Tee has done so much for me. I’m so grateful,” Gomez said. “I like part of the First Tee. My personality, who I am is because of the First Tee.”
Gomez and Smalley talked at La Quinta Country Club and again at…