New Zealand's Danny Lee has won the Mark H McCormack Medal. The award is made to the leading player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking following the US Amateur and European Amateur, both of which concluded at the weekend.
Lee ensured his position at the top of the Ranking after adding the US Amateur to the Western Amateur title that he won earlier in the year. Korean-born Lee, who emigrated to New Zealand with his parents at the age of nine, took over the number one spot just one week ago thanks to an extraordinary PGA Tour debut tying for 20th at the Wyndham Championship after posting four rounds in the 60s.
The 18-year-old spent much of the first half of the year inside the top-10 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking thanks to a string of steady performances in the southern hemisphere, including victories at the North Island Stroke Play and Lake Macquarie Amateur, and a semi-final appearance at the Australian Amateur.
He continued to impress after arriving in the United States, registering solid finishes at the Southern Amateur and Porter Cup, and his victory at the Western Amateur got him into a position to challenge Rickie Fowler, who spent much of the year in the number one spot.
At Pinehurst Lee became the youngest player ever to win the US Amateur, supplanting Tiger Woods in the record books. Playing superb golf all week, he made 13 birdies in 32 holes during his 5&4 victory in the final. Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that during the matchplay stages of the championship Lee never had to go beyond the 16th green – with the exception of the morning round of the 36-hole final.
Lee's soft-spoken manner belies a swashbuckling approach to the game and huge self-confidence – he joked that he would beat Tiger Woods when he plays alongside him in the traditional champions' pairing at next year's US Open. He has every reason to be confident, however: only a handful of players has ever won the Western Amateur and US Amateur titles in the same season, and their names make for an impressive list that includes Jack Nicklaus, Lanny Wadkins, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard and Tiger Woods. For the moment at least, there seems every reason to think that Danny Lee will one day be a name to sit alongside those others – though not for a while. Lee is keen to at least play at least one more season as an amateur in order to take up his exemptions into The Open Championship, US Open and a likely invitation to the Masters.
Lee becomes the second player to receive the Mark H McCormack Medal, which is presented annually to the leading player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking after the US Amateur Championship and European Individual Amateur Championship. The medal was first awarded in 2007 to Colt Knost of the USA. After securing the medal last September, Knost went on to play a key part in the side which won the Walker Cup at Royal County Down, finishing unbeaten over the course of four matches. He turned professional soon after, immediately qualified for the Nationwide Tour in the US, and with two victories on that circuit so far this season has already climbed high enough in the money list to guarantee himself a full US PGA Tour card for 2009.
Elsewhere, Germany's Stephan Gross made a superb late charge up the rankings to end the season in fifth spot. In mid-August, Gross played in the Vodafone Challenge on the Challenge Tour, led after three rounds, and eventually finished just a shot behind 2006 US Amateur Champion Richie Ramsay, who turned professional last year. Gross then went on to prove that the result was no fluke by winning the European Amateur Championship in Denmark last week, a victory which saw him climb to his highest ever spot in the rankings.