Playing for Money: Sang Lee’s Road to a Professional Golf Career
Spend some time with Sang Lee (Class of 2010) and you will learn a lot about the ups and downs of making your way as a professional golfer. Sang is as thoughtful as he is determined, and knows there is not much separating the top golfers and players at the next level. “If you talk to professional golfers, the difference between the top players and the next level is a fine line,” he explains. “Just having the opportunity to play the top tours is a big thing. It’s all I am missing.”
To get that opportunity, Sang is returning to Asia for a second year to develop his pro game. He explains that “for someone just starting out in their career, the North American tours are costly. In the fall of 2016 I went to the Asian Tour Q school and played in a number of Southeast Asia tournaments: Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, China, Japan, Macau, and Taiwan.”
It wasn’t that long ago that Sang was a Calgary kid with big dreams of a professional golf career. In high school, he had chosen Edge to help him on that road. “I really followed Randy Robb (Director of the Edge School Golf Program) to Edge,” he explains. “I had gotten to know Randy through Alberta Golf and Edge seemed like a better opportunity for me to be able to focus on what I wanted to do. It allowed me to play more, practice more, and have an extra person guiding me.”
The plan worked. After graduation, Sang was offered a scholarship to attend Washington State University (WSU) and play on the men’s golf team. Although the jump to a Pac-12 university was a challenge, Sang feels that Edge had prepared him well. He says that “if it wasn’t for Edge, I would have had a tough time getting to Washington State, a Division 1 school. I didn’t know how that worked. Conversations with Dr. Matt Brown (Edge School Sport Psychologist) and Randy Robb about applying to NCAA schools really helped me. This is probably one of the biggest benefits of Edge, the strong experience the school has with U.S. colleges.”
Other aspects of his Edge experience also helped him along the way. As Sang explains, “Access to facilities and being around other golfers was so important. A couple other guys like Scott Lowe (Class of 2010) had the same vision as me and we would push each other. Washington State is a big place, and it is really an amplified version of Edge School. The routine you build at Edge prepared me well.”
Still, competing in the Pac-12, the toughest conference in U.S. college golf, was a difficult adjustment, Sang explains. “In terms of golf, I went through a poor playing phase when I began at Washington State because I had changed a lot about my game. It was only in my sophomore year that I began playing in tournaments. In my senior year I had a few top tens and a win.”
That win was a big confidence boost, especially considering that several of the golfers Sang competed against have gone on to the PGA tour: Michael Kim, Patrick Rodgers, and Jon Rahm, among others. “John Rahm was in the field when I won in my senior year. Others are on the European Tour. Being around those players and having played the same courses under the same conditions, you are able to gauge where you are against the best in the world. I realize I am not that far away,” he explains.
Returning to Asia this February, Sang has his sights set on a strong year. His first event for 2018 is the Solaire Philippine Open, the country’s main tournament with a purse of $660,000 USD. The tournament runs from February 28 to March 3. After that, he will play in Asian Development Tour and Thailand Tour events. Altogether, he expects to compete in 20-25 tournaments from February to December.
From a developmental perspective, Sang sees playing in Asia as important preparation for any professional. He explains that “playing in Asia can really help you learn to play professional golf, to learn how to play for money. Getting experience on tour life, the schedule, etc., can be very stressful. Playing for your livelihood is a whole different thing to learn. I have always liked it when there was more than just a score on the line. The more experience you have with this, the more comfortable you will be.”
Moreover, golfing in Asia presents its own unique challenges. Sang says that “learning how to travel has been huge. There is a huge language barrier. Booking a taxi and changing flight tickets can be tricky. Being careful where you eat is so important – I have had food poisoning three times. The first year was a lot of learning and it can all impact your stress and energy level. Now I am way more comfortable. I think in my second year I will have a lot more success.”
Sang recently enjoyed a few weeks in Calgary before heading back overseas and was glad to spend some time at Edge School. He explains that he was back home and back at Edge “just trying to get healthy. With a history of back pain, I know I have to take care of my body. Working with Ross McCain (Manager, Duckett Performance Centre), Brady Greening (Head Athletic Therapist), and Dr. Brown is a big help.”
While his goal is to gain experience and make enough money to come back and play in the Web.com and PGA Tours in the next 2-3 years, Sang values his experience in Asia, explaining that “from what I know now, I think Asia is a great opportunity. Students just coming out of university need to broaden their knowledge of different tours.”
Although his road to professional golf has taken him far from home, Sang is quick to recognize where he came from. He emphasizes that “even though I am golfing internationally, I am out there trying to represent Canada, Calgary, the Edge School, and Washington State.”