TRINITY, Texas – Jeong Hyun Lee of South Korea is 12 years old and the youngest of the 76 competitors at the Spirit International Amateur. But don’t underestimate her. She can drive it 230 yards, putt the lights out and makes birdies in bunches.
In Friday’s second round at Whispering Pines Golf Club, she circled seven of them on the scorecard to help Team Korea’s women’s duo shoot a best-ball score of 9-under 63 and open up a four-stroke lead in both the women’s (-17) and combined international competition (-29) over Team France.
But the soft-spoken Lee, who sat on the lap of teammate Ina Yoon, her older, “big-sister” figure and practiced choreographing their handshakes, didn’t even know she was leading the individual competition with 13 birdies until her coach informed her. Only Australia’s Jack Trent – with 14 – has had more birdies.
“You’re going to be dangerous when you’re 13,” an onlooker said.
Yoon chipped in a few birdies en route to the team’s 63 and the men’s squad – consisting of Naekjun Kim and Hyeonguk Park – have done their share to make Korea frontrunners heading into Saturday’s third and final round.
Sangwon Ko, Korea’s captain, said he gave his team simple instructions for this week.
— Spirit International (@thespiritgolf) November 8, 2019
“When we flew over here, I told our players that this is a unique format and they must trust each other,” Ko said. “That’s what they’ve done. We’ve been deep in the woods and in the water, but when one makes a mistakes, it’s OK, the other can cover for it.”
“To be honest, I didn’t expect my team to do this well,” he added. “It’s beyond my expectations.”
Expectations were high for Team USA’s dynamic duo of Andy Ogletree and Cole Hammer. The pair, who were members of the victorious U.S. Walker Cup team this year, overcame a slow start in the second round to shoot 7-under 65 and trail Sweden (Adam Blomme and Vincent Norman) by one stroke.
“It felt like we were getting lapped early,” said Hammer, who played in front of his Texas coach John Fields this afternoon.
On a cold day that saw players sporting ski caps and using hand warmers, Hammer’s putter got toasty when he rolled in a long birdie putt at No. 9, the first of his five birdies on the day. Ogletree contributed three, including when he stiffed it at 15. Afterwards, they shared a laugh about Ogletree’s 3-iron on the par-5 12th.
“I pretty much topped it,” Ogletree said, “but I still made birdie.”
It’s a bunched leaderboard on the men’s side with eight teams within two strokes. Hammer and Ogletree said they won’t be able to afford another slow start and predicted 23 under should be enough to ensure gold medals are placed around their neck late on Saturday afternoon.
“We’re going to have to go deep. It’s all about having two looks at birdie on every hole,” Hammer said. “Hopefully we’ll be hooping Steph Curry style.”