Difficult decisions lay ahead for U.S. Amateur champ Lee

Our experts give their takes in this week's edition of Fact or Fiction.

Originally Published: August 27, 2008
ESPN.com/GolfWorld

Should he stay or should he go. That's the question Danny Lee has been asked numerous times over the past week after his victory at the 108th U.S. Amateur.

The New Zealander who was born in South Korea is just 18, so he likely has a long golfing future ahead of him. But should he take his game to the play-for-pay ranks of professional golf or take advantage of what likely becomes invitations to next year's first three majors?

Lee said the choice isn't his. (His parents will make that decision). But what's a kid to do with all that talent? Our experts ponder that question and more as they share their opinions in this week's edition of Fact or Fiction.

FACT OR FICTION?


U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee should turn pro.

Bob Harig, golf writer, ESPN.com: FICTION.
It certainly must be tempting for Danny Lee to consider playing for pay. You can argue that there is not much more for him to accomplish as an amateur.

After his stunning run through the U.S. Amateur field at Pinehurst -- where he never had to play past the 16th hole during match play until the 36-hole final -- Lee is now the youngest U.S. Amateur champion and also has the medalist and match play titles from the Western Amateur on his résumé. The day before he began the U.S. Amateur, he tied for 20th at the PGA Tour's Wyndham Championship.

What does he have to lose by turning pro?

Plenty.

The No. 1-ranked amateur who is from New Zealand has exemptions to the U.S. Open and British Open and a near-certain invite from the Masters awaiting. All are contingent upon him remaining an amateur. Why not wait a few months?

Lee just turned 18 and hasn't even graduated from high school in New Zealand. Could he turn pro and have plenty of success? Absolutely. But nothing is guaranteed, as plenty of previous U.S. Amateur champions could attest.

And this is not the same situation faced by Colt Knost, who last year turned down opportunities to play in those majors and instead turned pro after his amateur success. Knost is older and out of college. He wanted to get on with his professional career.

Lee has time, and he should take it.

Jason Sobel, golf writer, ESPN.com: FICTION.
Basically, we're being asked whether the newest U.S. Amateur champ should "pull a Colt Knost" or not. I say he shouldn't -- but it has nothing to do with the moral obligation of playing in next year's first three majors or the pratfalls of trying to play for pay. No, I think he should wait because it sounds like that's what he really wants to do.

Prior to winning the Am, Lee had intimated that he planned to remain an amateur but would compete in the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, likely turning pro if he finished in the top-25 and ties this December. However, that was before he clinched exemptions into the U.S. and British opens and a likely invite to the Masters -- exemptions he would be forced to forgo should he turn pro beforehand.

"Maybe not," Lee said when asked whether he still plans on attending Q-school after beating Drew Kittleson 5 and 4 on Sunday at Pinehurst No. 2. "I've got to play those major tournaments before I die."

That means Lee might wait to turn pro until next summer -- or longer -- but it's a decision he still hasn't made yet. And it's not all his to make, either.

"It is my parents' choice, it's not my choice. I don't have that many choices. But I don't really want to turn pro next year, I just want to play -- I want to play in those big events and maybe after that I'll discuss turning pro then," he said. "I can't give you the 100 percent answer right now, I want to be a professional golfer, but I want to be a student of college as well."

Certainly sounds like a kid who wants to enjoy the tall pines and azaleas of Augusta National and tee it up with reigning U.S. Open champ Tiger Woods for 36 holes at Bethpage. Let's hope he gets his wish.

John Antonini, senior editor, Golf World: FICTION.

If you asked me if an 18-year-old female should turn pro after winning the U.S. Women's Amateur, I'd answer with a resounding yes.

The LPGA is chock full of young tournament winners and the few years you spend playing collegiately would cut into your earnings potential. But a high school kid turning pro to try the men's tours? No way.

While Lee is far from Ty Tryon, there just aren't many positives to be gained from playing for pay at such a young age. If Lee turns pro he loses his major invitations for 2009. By turning pro he loses his chance to play collegiately, which basically has become a primer on how to prioritize your time and deal with your responsibilities while traveling to tournaments across the country.

Sure Lee, a New Zealander, is an experienced traveler, but he has always been the passenger with his parents steering the ship. In college he'd learn what choices to make.

Although Lee's folks would still be around if he plays the tours, he would be the one responsible for his decisions and I don't know too many 18-year-olds who make all the correct choices when left to their own devices.

Finally, what's the rush? Teens don't win on the PGA Tour. Jason Day may be playing well without college experience, but he hasn't won yet and the training he would have gotten in college would be just as beneficial as his career progresses. Even the best young stud on tour, Anthony Kim, spent time in college. Lee's parents should have Lee follow Kim's blueprint. Spend at least a year as a NCAA athlete in order to mature. Then turn pro when the time is right.

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