Golf: Danny Lee opens up on why he split from his caddy

By Simon Plumb at Augusta National Golf Club

Danny Lee and caddie Mike Hartford walk on the tenth hole during a practice round at the Masters. Photo / Getty
Danny Lee and caddie Mike Hartford walk on the tenth hole during a practice round at the Masters. Photo / Getty

Shrugging off a mysterious pre-tournament split with his caddy, Danny Lee says he's in the form of his life heading into tomorrow morning's opening round of the Masters.

The PGA Tour's surprise package last season, the name of the 25-year-old is being bandied around Augusta this week as conversations turn to dark horses and lucrative long-shots.

It's almost inconceivable territory for a Kiwi golfer, with Lee the first New Zealander to even qualify for Augusta National since Michael Campbell in 2010.

Fuelled by his first PGA Tour win at the Greenbrier Classic in July, where he held his nerve to win a four-man playoff, Lee was one of the most consistent players in the world last year, with more top 10's than Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson - household names with 10 majors between them.

With new-found status, Lee must now live up to being a major championship regular and the calibre of player whose focus is on delivering at the big four events, rather than just trying to qualify.

Sat outside the iconic Augusta National clubhouse, softly-spoken Lee admits he's even surprised himself with his surge in form, but insists he still won't be intimidated and is ready for his biggest test yet.

"My ball-striking is better than it has ever been. As long as I stay patient and stay out of my own way, I'll do fine. I feel like Augusta suits me." Lee told the New Zealand Herald.

Listen: Danny Lee ahead of his opening round at Augusta

"Me and my coach got here Thursday last week to get ready and I think we're coming along very nicely. I'm excited about the week ahead and what I can achieve.

"At the beginning of last year, nobody thought I was going to make it to the Presidents Cup, or capture my first PGA Tour victory, or make it all the way to the Tour Championship, or finish in the top 10 of the FedEx Cup.

"This season, I've just been concentrating on the Masters as one of my big goals."
Strangely, Lee says his favourite stretch of the course is Amen Corner - the fabled and beautiful, but extremely dangerous, three-hole stretch which runs from the 11th to the 13th.

The 13th is one of the greatest risk-reward holes in golf, a Par 5 where more Green Jackets have been won than lost. But the 11th is consistently ranked the hardest hole of the tournament, while swirling winds cause havoc at the iconic Par 3 12th where Rae's Creek lurks. Lee, however, loves it.

"I really like it through the 11th and 12th holes, the start of Amen Corner. When I stand there, I think every hole is an opportunity," he said. "It just feels comfortable, I know I've got all the shots."

With the fairways wide and the rough short at Augusta, Lee is adamant his work on and around the greens this week will be the deciding factor, rather than his accuracy off the tee. His coach, Drew Streckel, agrees much will depend on whether Lee can find space for his Odyssey putter to roll free.

"The thing with Danny is how his game is always consistently good tee to green these days. Whether he putts well could be a case of having a good or bad week. But he's always been a good putter," Streckel said. "Every week we have a chance to win."

It also remains to be seen how quickly Lee can gel with new caddie Michael Hartford, after the Herald this week revealed he had called in John Daly's former looper at late notice after a sudden separation from his long-time caddy Kurt Kowaluk.

But unlike the star attractions of McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, Lee at least has the benefit of flying under the radar this week.

More Masters coverage:
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Watch what happens when Jack Nicklaus arrives at Augusta

He has not been called to do a press conference and has also been handed a low-profile grouping for the first two rounds, with Masters rookies Russell Knox and Smylie Kaufman unlikely to draw big crowds.

In his second appearance at the Masters, after qualifying for the 2009 tournament courtesy of winning the previous year's US Amateur Championship and breaking Tiger Woods' record as the youngest to lift the title, Lee also has enough experience to know what he's in for.

"If you happen to miss a green, you've got to know where the good misses are at Augusta - where the easiest chip will be from - otherwise you will make big numbers," he said. "That takes time to learn but this course is familiar to me from 2009 and we've done all the preparation we need to this time around.

"It feels different being here as a professional instead of an amateur, it's a lot tougher to play this tournament as a professional because there's more expectation. But I'm really thrilled to be out here, it's going to be one hell of a week."

DANNY LEE
Age: 25
World rank: 38
Previous Masters: 2009 (missed cut as an amateur)
PGA Tour wins: 2015 Greenbrier Classic
Best finish this season: 4th (Phoenix Open)
Lee is the first New Zealander to play in the Masters since Michael Campbell in 2010.

- NZ Herald

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