It was less than a year ago when Kyoung-Hoon Lee was a foreigner playing in a new town in Japan every week. Journeying through the Japanese Golf Tour, the South Korean golfer was incredibly successful, especially in 2015.
He had seven top ten finishes, including one win. He won another tournament in Korea between all of that. He was too successful.
He needed a challenge. He needed to expand his game and put more pressure on himself. While the money in Japan was good, he moved to America and hopped on the Web.com tour.
But since he came to play on the Web.com tour, he hasn’t recorded a top 10 finish. He’s 136th in the money standings. He’s missed the cut in nine of his 14 tournaments.
“I know this tour is (full of) better play, many good players,” Lee said. “And it’s a hard tour.”
On Thursday, things finally started to look up for Lee at the Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in Overland Park. He finished the first day of the Digital Ally Open tied for the lead with an 8-under 63.
Lee started his day on the driving range, making minor changes to his alignment on driving and putting. It paid off. He finished 7-under through the first seven holes including an eagle from the fringe on his fourth hole of the day.
“My mind is so fast,” Lee said. “I need a birdies, people always birdie or eagle, and my mind is, ‘ OK, I need to birdie, birdie.’ ”
Lee did exactly that, with eight birdies, along with that eagle, on the day. And right there with him was Bhavik Patel, a Fresno State graduate, 26th in money earning this year and one spot outside earning a PGA Tour card.
Patel finished tied with Lee on the day, carding nine birdies with a number of impressive long-distance putts, and two chip-ins from off the green.
“We’ve still got a lot of golf left, but getting one early is pretty good,” Patel said. “We've still got a lot of good players out here, but it's good that I was able to play well today.”
The Lee, Patel and Oliver Goss — who finished 2-under — group was chasing morning leader Matt Davidson, who carded a 7-under 64. Davidson is similar to Lee — no top 10 finish, 130th in the money.
Tour money leader Wesley Bryan carded a 6-under 65 and finished tied for fifth, but led for five holes before he triple bogeyed on hole 15 after he hit into the bunker, then into a water hazard, and lipped out a putt.
When Lee finished the day tied for the lead and with his best 18-hole score of his stint on the Web.com tour, he quickly grabbed something to eat and drink. After he finished his food in the range’s tee box, he started working on his alignment again with a stick behind his heels to keep them aligned and his father watching.
“Just too much pressure,” Lee said of his season to this point. “This weekend, I feel like I can just enjoy.”