Golf: Danny Lee's $100m dilemma

By Craig Tiriana -

A decision to play for New Zealand rather than turn professional right after his US Amateur win cost Rotorua golfer Danny Lee more than $100 million.

The world number one amateur has revealed to The Daily Post that a commitment to play for New Zealand saw him decline sponsorship offers of more than $100m to turn professional immediately following his US Amateur title win last August.

His estimated worth has since halved and 18-year-old Lee has had reason to regret his decision after being slammed for a poor performance for his country at the Eisenhower Trophy (World Teams Championships).

"After I won the US Amateur, all the sponsors are telling me big money - big, big money, maybe just over $100 million," Lee revealed.

However, he had made a commitment to play the Eisenhower.

"I gave up that money and got my New Zealand citizenship," he said, looking back on a year during which he encountered both the best and worst of public life.

Public interest in him and the uncertainty around turning professional led to his highly criticised performance at the Eisenhower in Adelaide, he said.

New Zealand Golf board member and broadcaster Peter Williams called Lee's last round performance, he was accused of not trying, a disgrace and it's understood the team's internal report from the event was also scathing.

It was a turbulent time for Lee and the first time he'd encountered any public backlash, making for "a couple of bad days".

"I learnt a lot. Nobody knew what was going on, not even New Zealand Golf. I know I done a couple of bad things at Eisenhower but NZ Golf and New Zealand doesn't really know what's going on with me - I just gave up [millions], it [could have been] a great life if I took that chance after the US Amateur.

"I could have turned [professional] straight away but reason [couldn't because of the] Eisenhower. I promised NZ Golf I was going to play in that," Lee said.

In the current economic climate the money being offered now was "not even close" to the $100m previously touted.

Lee said he had some regrets about putting loyalty before his own ambitions. Turning professional right after the US Amateur would have been "perfect timing". It will happen this April but he's finding the wait "really slow".

"Sometimes I just think I made a stupid decision - I should have just turned pro and played in the [US] PGA events. Even if I had played bad it would've been worth it."

Lee "tried hard" in the first three rounds at the Eisenhower but had a bad final round. Then came the backlash.

"[NZGA] said 'Danny done this, Danny played bad, that's why they came 10th'. My parents were really really angry."

Then there was the bomb-in-my-luggage airport joke which backfired on him, becoming public knowledge in the Eisenhower fallout.

"At the time I didn't know they were taking [the joke] that serious," Lee said of the incident. His parents forgave him but the media went "nuts".

"That was the worst part [of 2008]. I was surprised it was [news around the] world ... It was on PGA website, everywhere."

It highlighted how visible he now was but asked how he would deal with being a public figure in future, Lee was ever the joker. "I might get plastic surgery and change my name."

- ROTORUA DAILY POST

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