The Road Less Traveled

Published on Tuesday, September 17th, 2013 in Features

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Like the poet Robert Frost, golfer Richard Lee took the
road less traveled — and that has made all the difference.

By Bob Sherwin

When it comes to Richard Lee’s life as a golfer, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact low point:

A. Was it in 2004 when, as a 15-year-old, he dropped out of Bellevue’s Newport High School and moved to the Philippines to futilely pursue a professional golf career on the Asia Tour?

B. Or, was it after returning from the Philippines nearly two years later — without success, without a job, without a high-school degree, and, in the words of UW coach Matt Thurmond, with golf skills that were “…not that good. He was not at a level for recruiting at that time,” Thurmond says.

C. Or, was it in 2010, at age 22 — still without a job or money, but with a wife, Christine, and young daughter, Israella, to support — when he bogeyed two of his final four holes at Q-School to miss earning his PGA Tour card by one measly stroke?

D. Or, perhaps it was in 2011, when he spent more on travel than what he made on the second-tier Web.com Tour, and was just about broke, with only $2,000 in his bank account?

So many lows to choose from. Upon reflection, Lee leans toward C, missing Q-School by a stroke.

“That was really tough,“ Lee says. “It hurt a lot. I shed my share of tears. I was so close to achieving my dream.“

Yet, for every one of his disappointments and obstacles, Richard Lee (who is often listed as “Richard E. Lee” on scoreboards, to avoid confusion with another Richard Lee) has managed to overcome and prevail. He may not have had the talent at the time when he needed it and, as he says, “I’m not the brightest guy in the world,“ but his indefatigable spirit has helped him maneuver beyond his many doglegs.

“That (missing Q-School) was probably the best thing that could have happened to me,“ Lee says now. “My game was not ready for the PGA Tour. If that didn’t happen, I don’t know if I’d be where I am today.“

Where Lee is today is a legit PGA Tour member, primarily due to a myopic focus on his dream. His early success this season has already earned him enough prize money to retain his card for 2014. He’s had a couple of top-10 finishes, and as of mid-July was inside of the top-75 of the FedEx Cup season points standings, and ranked among the top 200 players in the world.

That’s still a long way to the elite class, but consider where he started, or even where he was less than two years ago — it would be fair to say that no one else has taken quite the same course to Tour success.

“It’s definitely not the traditional route,“ Lee admits.

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