Richard Lee hasn’t played a PGA Tour event since November because of thumb surgery.

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Richard Lee picked up golf later than most of his peers on the PGA Tour. He has a vivid image of his first visit to a driving range, at Bellevue Golf Course, at age 14.

“I wasn’t very good,” he recalled, “but I fell in love with it.”

Golf became his obsession. Soon, he would take his first lesson at Willows Run in Redmond. Less than two years later, midway through his sophomore year at Newport High School, his drive to become a pro golfer spurred a dramatic decision: he packed two bags and his golf clubs, left his family and moved to the Philippines.

There, halfway around the world, Lee studied the game under the tutelage of a family friend who played on the Asian Tour.

“I literally played sunup to sundown,” Lee, now 28, said Saturday after playing a practice round at Chambers Bay in University Place. “I didn’t know any better.”

Lee lived in the Philippines for more than a year. Homesick, he eventually moved back to Bellevue, earned his General Educational Development (GED) degree, played for the Bellevue College golf team and earned a scholarship to play for the University of Washington.

“It definitely wasn’t a normal way of getting to a Division I level golf program,” he said. “But I got there.”

The route into his first major championship at the U.S. Open this week at Chambers Bay was a bit unusual, too.

Last November, after finishing his third season on the PGA Tour, Lee had surgery on his left thumb. He couldn’t grip a club for months. When he finally was able to practice again this spring, he made a significant alteration to the delivery position on his swing, in part because his old form caused too much strain on the repaired thumb.

A week ago, in his first competitive rounds in nearly nine months, Lee survived 36 holes at a sectional qualifier at Cle Elum’s Tumble Creek Club to advance to the U.S. Open. Fellow former Huskies Cheng-Tsung Pan and Troy Kelly were the other two qualifiers out of that site.

“To play as well as he did under that pressure and after not playing for nine months, that’s remarkable,” UW coach Matt Thurmond said.

Lee, ranked No. 512 in the world, had his best season on the PGA Tour in 2013, when he finished 96th in the FedEx Cup standings. Over the past week, he has played 36 holes over three visits at Chambers Bay.

He said the course’s “unique” setup requires extra prep work, and he is glad he was in town a week early.

“When you play it for the first time, it’s very intimidating because there’s so much going on,” he said. “A lot of guys are going to wear themselves out trying to figure it out.”

As a teenager, Lee said his experiences in the Philippines forced him to mature quickly. After coming home, he got married at 18; his wife, Christine, gave birth to their first daughter, Israella, a year later. The family, which now includes a second daughter, 20-month-old Elizabeth, has settled in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Lee said being a father has given him perspective on his career.

Still, he said it’s a dream come true to be playing in his first major, back in Washington no less.

“The past nine months have been tough,” said Lee, who will tee off from the first hole at 7:11 a.m. Thursday. “But at the same time I was so happy to take that much time off and be right back to where I was — and maybe even better. Mentally, I’m recharged and grateful to play again without pain.

“I feel really lucky to be playing again, and to start over in my hometown and in the U.S. Open, it’s pretty special.”