MARANA – After many years of trying to find his way to the top of a professional golf leaderboard in Arizona, Danny Lee finally broke through at LIV Golf Tucson.
After 11 attempts at trying to conquer the WM Phoenix Open in Scottsdale as a member of the PGA Tour, most recently in February, Lee recently jumped to the rival LIV tour.
And did it ever pay off. Lee won in a four-way playoff at the Gallery Golf Club in the second LIV event of the 2023 season and pocketed $4 million. In 11 PGA Tour seasons, the New Zealander had won just one tournament and a total of a little over $15 million in prize money.
LIV Golf is funded by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund and the tour offers purses far larger than those on the PGA Tour. There also is no cut in the 54-hole events, and players have received huge bonuses to leave the PGA Tour to join LIV.
Lee had played in 11 events on the PGA Tour in the 2022-23 season, most recently at the Genesis Open. He missed five cuts, including at the Genesis. He finished in a tie for 57th at the WM Phoenix Open.
By contrast, Lee has earned $4.16 million in his first two LIV starts, including the big payday in Tucson.
“Whenever I play in a tournament, I never really look at the prize money or anything like that,” Lee said. “I just want to be the best I can be. I mean, there’s so many great players, legendary players out here.”
Historically Lee has not had much success in Arizona. He missed the cut in seven of 11 tries at TPC Scottsdale. The closest Lee came to winning there was a fourth-place finish in 2013 when he finished 11-under par for the tournament.
Lee had to work overtime to get his hands on the big paycheck Sunday.
He needed three extra holes to beat out Carlos Ortiz, Brendan Steele and Louis Oosthuizen in the second playoff in LIV history.
Entering the day, Lee sat four shots back of Marc Leishman, who held the lead after each of the first two days of play at the Gallery. However, Leishman faded from contention, finishing 6-over in his final round.
Lee took advantage of the opportunity, making birdie on his final two holes to fire a 2-under-par 69 to move to 9-under for the tournament and into a share of the lead.
Ortiz fired a final-round 65 while Steele and Oosthuizen each shot 70 to tie atop the leaderboard and force the playoff.
Lee had an opportunity to close the door on the second playoff hole but could not execute, missing a 6-foot birdie putt with his unconventional putting style, pushing the putt to the right.
“I mean, when I missed that short birdie putt on the second hole, I was going through some emotions, like, ‘Oh, my God, what have you done, you idiot,’” Lee said.
The third time on the 18th hole in the playoff turned out to be the charm. Lee didn’t let the missed putt affect him. Oosthuizen and Steele made par on the third and Lee’s approach missed the green by about 10 feet. He chose to putt from there.
With a large crowd surrounding the 18th green, including most of the LIV golfers who had finished playing, Lee holed out the putt for his first LIV victory.
“I wasn’t thinking about missing the green to the right with a pitching wedge on the third playoff hole, and I think I got pretty lucky on the birdie putt,” Lee said.
Lee noticed that playing for LIV in Arizona – at least in Tucson – differed from playing at the WM Phoenix Open because of the presence of several former Arizona State players on the LIV circuit.
“When I played with Pat Perez and David Puig, nobody was cheering for me because they’re from Arizona State,” he said. “But today, quite a few fans were pulling for me, and I’m always happy to see that.”
While Lee was the center of attention at the end of the day on Sunday, he had to share the spotlight with four other golfers who also won a championship in Tucson.
Fireballs GC took home the team prize behind Sergio Garcia, Abraham Ancer, Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra and Carlos Ortiz’s combined score of 25-under. They beat out 4Aces GC, which finished four strokes behind in the team competition that is a hallmark of the LIV tour.
“I’m happy I was able to come in for the team,” Ortiz said. “Obviously, I think we all played well at different times. (Lopez-Chacarra) was the one consistent at keeping the team right there, but (Garcia) played great yesterday, (Ancer) played great the first round, I played great today, so that’s what you need to win. So we did it right.
Fireballs GC is one of 12 teams competing in every LIV tournament. Teams play to acquire points that will help them during the season’s playoffs.
Teams earn points after each tournament, with the team with the lowest combined score gaining the most points. Whichever team wins each tournament gets awarded a financial bonus and a trophy.
Members of Fireballs GC get to split a prize of $3 million just for winning in Tucson. As runner-up, 4Aces GC made $1 million to split between its players. Lee pocketed a share of his team’s $500,000 prize for finishing third.
The team championship winners at the end of the season get the majority of a $50 million purse.
“I think that you’re playing individually, but you know that you’re also helping your teammates,” Garcia said. “You try to find whatever you have inside of you to make sure that you don’t let the round get away from you because you know that at the end of the day, a couple of shots here and there might be the difference between winning or losing as a team.”