The Yemeni vibes at the Saudi Ladies International

‘I felt like I was in heaven, like I was playing in a garden,’ says Minjee Lee of her debut appearance at the Saudi Ladies International

This year’s start for Australian golfer Minjee Lee was far from routine. The 18-year-old, her first full tour start, came over from Perth to play the Saudi Ladies International in Jeddah – part of the first female golf tournament to be held in the kingdom. While a change of scenery may be commonplace for many female tour players, it’s rare that the women travel abroad in the first place – the Saudi travel ban barring women from the public sphere hasn’t been lifted on golf events, making a trip abroad a significant challenge.

It all changed last year when the Saudi royal court appeared to sanction the event. Lee – a multiple Australian Junior Amateur champion, daughter of Malaysian parents, and native of Queensland – became the first non-Saudi woman to play in the country. Her arrival heralded a “new era” of Saudi women, her father Clive Lee said.

Even from the moment she reached the 13th tee, where she made her first hole-in-one, Minjee Lee knew that she was witnessing history.

She felt like she was in heaven, like she was playing in a garden, like we were all in it together. I think it was huge not only for her, but also for the tournament itself. Minjee Lee

“It just felt like a dream,” Lee said, reminiscing of her first tee shot. “My dad made me go up to the tee as he said, it’s super big to be the first lady in the tournament, and he said, ‘If you make your first hole-in-one here, that could be big too, so don’t think about anything else on the course.’ And sure enough, I made my first hole-in-one and it was pretty surreal.”

The wildcard was never in any doubt. The ball dropped into the cup just 5ft from the flag, her second in four days.

“A lot of nerves went into it [making the hole-in-one],” Lee said. “It was really exciting, I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not. I just went up there to play and when I got the good breaks I got, I just had to believe in myself, that I was going to make it.”

That shot was a highlight in a career-best week for Lee, who secured a top-15 finish with a tied-23 finish in the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. This week, she’s drawn 16th for the second round of the opening $1.16m Saudi Ladies International, currently on course for a first Saudi Ladies Professional Golf Tour title. She’s confident her humble and enthusiastic countenance can help catapult her from a blossoming amateur to a professional tour player.

“I feel like I know what I want out of life and that’s what I’m going to give it to the rest of my life,” Lee said. “I feel like I can get that out of people. I think people look up to me a lot and I want to be a role model for them, so to try and give them some inspiration.”

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