April 13, 2012
Former Husky golfer and current PGA Tour pro Richard Lee was recently in Seattle for some rare downtime. Lee earned his way onto the PGA Tour through Q-School. He birdied the final two holes of competition and tied for 24th to make the cut by one shot. Lee has made eight starts this year and two cuts. He currently stands 162nd in the Fed Ex Cup standings, but has plenty of time to earn more money and add to his status. During his visit to Seattle, he was kind enough to spend some time catching GoHuskies.com.
GoHuskies.com: How's life on the tour?
Richard Lee: "It's a lot of travel. I haven't been home in five weeks, but it's kind of part of the deal. I've been enjoying it a lot. I get to go to places - I was in Mexico, Florida, Puerto Rico - I've been all over the place. I've been learning and adjusting. Tour life is definitely different; a lot more to learn and a lot more to get adjusted to. I'm still a rookie, so I'm still learning a lot. I'm picking some brains from veterans and stuff and try to get a little advice here and there. But it's been good. I'm living my dream and it's been fun."
GH.com: Who are you finding that's most helpful on the tour as far as picking brains?
Richard Lee: "There's a guy named Kevin Streelman. He's been on tour for about five years. He lives in Scottsdale, and that's where I live. He's been kind of helping me out a little bit with just little things, like where to stay or where to go or playing a couple practice rounds, giving me a little advice here and there. It's been good. A lot of guys have been very helpful out there, which is nice."
GH.com: Do you ever find yourself in awe and going, `There's Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson'?
Richard Lee: "It is weird because I am playing and competing against guys that I grew up watching on TV. It is a little surreal. But when I'm at the tournament, I can't get caught up and think `Oh, here's Tiger' or `Oh, here's Phil'. You got to kind of do your own thing because you are competing with them. In the beginning, it was definitely tougher. I was like, `Wow, there's Phil' or you know. But they're just like us, and it's really an honor and blessing to be out there and compete with those guys. It's been so much fun."
GH.com: Have you been paired with someone that kind of made you in awe more than anyone else?
Richard Lee: "So far, I haven't really been paired with like the major, top guys yet. But, everybody out there is so good. It's like, when you compete in college, you have about a 100 guys in the field. Maybe 50 of those guys, you are actually competing with. But on tour, every single guy can win. I'm very impressed with what they do day in and day out. They've been doing it for years and I'm just getting started. The competitiveness out there is just so good."
GH.com: Take me back to your AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am experience - that was your best result of the year. What was that whole environment like?
Richard Lee: "Well, first of all, Pebble Beach is an awesome place. As soon as I got my tour card that was the one place I was looking forward to go because I've never gone to Pebble Beach. I always knew about Pebble Beach, how amazing it was, how awesome it was, and when I got there I was not disappointed. I played my first practice round on Monday. It's a weird week because when I played on Monday, I played with a guy named Daniel Chopra. He had two hole-in-one's on that day. I was like, `Wow. Either you're going to have a good week or I'm going to have a good week.' It was a funny week because I honestly don't feel like I played great. I felt like I played okay. I hit some loose shots here and there. I think for me, I played better because I was having so much fun being at Pebble Beach. I didn't care if I was playing bad because I was like, `Man, look to your left and it's the ocean, look to your right and it's the ocean.' The weather was pretty good. It wasn't great, but it was pretty good. In the last two rounds, the weather kind of turned bad. It was raining and cold and I was like, `Hey, great. I'm used to this.' That also helped me a little bit. I was just having a lot of fun and when you're mentally, physically, or visually just having fun, that helps your golf game, rather than being stressed or frustrated or whatever."
GH.com: Is it distracting to have all those amateurs playing with you or does it make it looser and more fun?
Richard Lee: "I think it's how you look at it. For me, it was more of a relaxed environment. I mean, I play with my brother-in-laws or my buddies who aren't very good, so I'm used to that. But those guys that I played with were actually good golfers, five handicap golfers. I think it kept it more like a nationwide or even like a college event for me playing with them. I think it helped me in a way rather than being so serious."
GH.com: You were married while in college and also a father. Talk about family life and how they are adjusting with you being on the Tour.
Richard Lee: "My daughter (Isarella) just turned five two weeks ago. We've been traveling together on the road, which has been really nice. (My wife Kristin and I are) really adjusting to the life of tour, going from hotel to hotel and not being able to go home for a little bit. But that's part of the deal and we're enjoying it. We're making the most out of it, so when we go to places, we like to go see places and stuff. It's been fun and it's been really nice to have them. Obviously, financially it's a lot more to travel with family and when I was on the nationwide tour, I wasn't able to do that, but out here, I'm able to which is great."
GH.com: Why did you choose Scottsdale, Ariz. to lay down your roots?
Richard Lee: "First of all, I wanted to stay on the west side of the country. I thought about California, Texas... I didn't even think about going to Florida. California was just too expensive and too crowded. We just said, `Hey, let's go to Arizona'. We visited there before we decided to move and we liked the area. The airport is great to travel out of. We're really enjoying our time there now. I mean, when you wake up, it's sunny every day, so it's a bit of a change from Seattle, but I'm not complaining; it's been good. We're really enjoying being there and I think we're planning on being there for a while. "
GH.com: As someone that made his way onto the Tour through Qualifying School - what are your thoughts on the new rule changes that the PGA is doing?
Richard Lee: "They've been talking about it for a while. For me, there's good and bad. I think the good is, I do agree that people that come out of the Nationwide Tour system and better prepared for the PGA Tour. But at the same time, I feel like it's worked out so well to this point, so why change? You're kind of shredding dreams down for guys that are trying to make it, you know. I'm not saying the Nationwide Tour is a bad place to play or anything. You have guys like Rickie Fowler and a few guys who come straight out of Q-School to the PGA Tour that win. I guess you're making them delay it one year. But I think the good thing is that when you come out of Nationwide Tour, they're a lot more used to the system and how it works. I can't really say if I like it or hate it. It is what it is. They did make the change and we'll see how it affects everybody."
GH.com: Do you think you would've had the success in Q-School if you wouldn't have went through the Nationwide Tour first?
Richard Lee: "No, I think my experience in the Nationwide Tour definitely helped prepare me for Q-School and what I went through. The first year I went to Q-School, I missed my card by one and ended up on Nationwide Tour. I think that was really a blessing in disguise because I was more ready to compete this year rather than last year. The Nationwide Tour is a great place to get better and feel more comfortable competing with those guys. The guys on the Nationwide Tour are just as good as guys in the PGA tour."
GH.com: Now that you're in the PGA tour, how much pressure is it on you to stay there?
Richard Lee: "It is on the back of my mind. Now that I'm there and kind of experienced what it is like and what's out there for us, it's such an awesome place to play. Obviously, financially it's a lot more than Nationwide Tour to play for. The perks that you get on the PGA Tour - you got your personal trainers here and there and everything's provided. But it's something I definitely think about, but I don't really worry about it because whatever happens, it happens. Obviously, I'm trying my best to win and compete out on the PGA Tour and I can't worry about `I wish I can stay out of the PGA Tour, play well, and keep my card.' I don't like to think that way. I just go about everyday business and do my thing and if it works out, great, and if not, great."
GH.com: I know there are a lot of things that Matt Thurmond and playing college golf here helped you to prepare for your pro career. Can you highlight a few that stand out to you?
Richard Lee: "Well, the tournaments that we play in college were played on really tough courses. Especially the top 30, 40 guys are just as good, so you are competing with guys that are winners, champions. That really helped me make myself better and make myself be more ready to compete at another level. The courses that we play are tough. Some courses we played on are even tougher than some places where we played on the PGA and Nationwide Tour. That definitely helped me prepare and get ready."
GH.com: Are you following Cheng-Tsung Pan and Chris Williams and seeing their success? What advice do you have for those two who will someday play with you?
Richard Lee: "First of all, those two guys are really good players. They obviously have the game to compete at the highest level. My only advice to them would be don't change anything and just keep on doing what you're doing. Just treat it like another golf tournament and don't make a big deal out of it. I think a lot of people psych themselves out and that's why they can't perform as well as they like in Q-School. I know both of those guys are phenomenal golfers. They have the talent and the skills to get to the PGA Tour, no doubt in my mind. It's just getting over the mental hurdle of getting through Q-School and if they can treat it as another golf tournament, they can be there."