Washington senior Henry Lee was one of the hottest men’s college golfers in the country last March, with two victories and five top-five finishes in eight events.
He was primed for a huge finish in the biggest events of the season, as were the Huskies, ranked No. 11 in the nation.
“I was playing well — the entire team was playing well — and we were feeding off each other,” said Lee, whose stroke average of 70.78 per round was sixth best in UW history. “It was so much fun, contending each and every week against the best teams in the country.”
We know what happened next. The coronavirus caused the cancellation of the rest of the season, leaving Lee with a big decision: Would he take advantage of an extra season after the NCAA ruled that spring athletes would not lose a year of eligibility last year?
Lee said the choice to return was easy.
“Just the whole golf experience and how they take such good care of us, and then to get an extra year to prepare — and to get better — for my pro career, hopefully,” said Lee, who earned his degree in communications with a minor in political science and is now taking graduate courses.
The Huskies, and Lee, have not had the start to this season they were looking for through three tournaments. Two starters from last season – Paul Margolis from France and Bo Peng – are not back, and UW has finished 14th, sixth, and 13th in its three tournaments.
Still, coach Alan Murray is very bullish on his team and said he believes his team “can give anyone a good game.”
Lee has finished tied for 34th, tied for 29th and then had to withdraw from an event two weeks ago because of pain in his right shoulder.
Lee is fully healthy now and will play in the Lamkin Invitational in San Diego, which begins Monday.
Lee said he feels he is playing better than his recent finishes indicate. That’s good news with the biggest tournaments yet ahead, including the NCAA regional at Tumble Creek outside Cle Elum that the Huskies will conduct in May.
Lee’s journey here started in South Korea when he was 6 and “started following my dad to the (driving) range.”
Lee’s family moved to British Columbia when he was about 7. He started playing in junior tournaments and was “doing well against the older boys.” That added to his confidence and desire.
Lee committed to Washington when he was in the 10th grade. Previous coach Matt Thurmond had found great success recruiting in Canada, with players like Hogan Award winner Nick Taylor, now on the PGA Tour, Pac-12 champion Darren Wallace, Charlie Hughes and Kevin Kwon, who was a senior when Lee was a freshman at UW.
Two UW women’s stars – SooBin Kim and Jennifer Yang – both attended Gleneagle Secondary in Coquitlam, B.C., where Lee also went.
Kim and Yang had graduated from Gleneagle before Lee attended, but he had known both for years because they all practiced at the same golf club.
“It’s cool to follow in their footsteps,” Lee said.
A month before Lee was set to come to UW, Thurmond left for Arizona State. After talking to some of the players and to new coach Murray, Lee said he still believed Washington was the right choice.
“I wanted to stay here deep in my heart and I have never regretted anything,” Lee said.
It worked well for Washington, too. Lee is one of 12 players in UW history with more than one individual victory. He will have several chances to pick up another.
“Henry is an exceptional player,” said Murray, who said it was a huge boost when Lee decided to return for a fifth year. “He’s got great energy and he’s very popular with all the guys. They really enjoy and respect him. Just a positive guy to be around, and if you can have guys like that and they are really good, you’re not going to say no to those guys.”
Lee said his normal strengths are his driving and his putting. He said this year he has been doing better hitting his irons, and that “I’ve lost too many shots with one or two bad drives.”
“I’ve just got to clean that up, and I think my game is in pretty good shape,” he said. “I feel like it’s not translating right now into how I am playing, but hopefully it will in the tournaments coming up.”
One of those will be the NCAA regional at Tumble Creek.
“I love Tumble Creek,” Lee said. “It’s one of my favorite courses. I feel like we will have a huge advantage because most players will be seeing it for the first time. I’ve probably played it 15 to 20 times. That will give me confidence over the other guys. I am really looking forward to it — the whole team is.”
Soon, Lee will start a professional career. It’s a challenge for any player to make it on the PGA Tour, but his coach said Lee can do it.
“He definitely has the potential,” Murray said. “In every year at college, he has gotten a little bit better. He just needs to continue to do that. On his good days, his golf is as good as anyone’s. … Henry is like a lot of guys in that improving your bad (days), is what’s going to keep you at a really high level. But Henry, for sure, can be a PGA Tour player.”