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Australian amateur Minjee Lee is backed by experience at International Crown

The Baltimore Sun

Among the most intriguing players in this week's inaugural International Crown at Caves Valley Golf Club is 18-year-old Australian Minjee Lee.

The top-ranked amateur in the world and the only non-professional in the eight-country, 32-player event, Lee plans to turn pro at the end of the year.

"It's a great honor for me to be here," Lee said Tuesday. "It's really exciting to be part of a tournament like this, and to represent my country is something I always wanted to do."

Lee doesn't have nearly as much experience as her three Australian teammates — Hall of Famer Karrie Webb and veterans Kathryn Kirk and Lindsey Wright — but she has been a part of more match play events recently.

"We jokingly designated her as captain last night," Kirk said.

Lee said she spends a lot of time playing practice rounds with the 39-year-old Webb at tournaments, such as the Kraft Nabisco, U.S. Women's Open and Ricoh British Open.

Lee tied for 24th at Kraft Nabisco and 22nd at in the U.S. Women's Open before missing the cut at the recent Ricoh Women's British Open earlier this month.

"She's kind of like mom on tour — well not mom, but auntie, I guess," Lee said of Webb with a smile. "She's not that old. She kind of helps me out whenever I kind of get stuck or wherever I have a question. I ask her, and she's pretty good about it. She just answers whatever she can."

Lee will play with Webb in Australia's opening round match Thursday against I.K. Kim and Na Yeon Choi of South Korea.

Playing favorites

Along with having something of a home course advantage when it comes to the fans, the United States team's surge this season has helped the host nation overtake South Korea as the No. 1-seeded team in the event. (Seedings are based on the players' individual world rankings.)

Stacy Lewis, who holds the No. 1 ranking in the world, said she looks forward to being the favorite.

"I think it's a great thing," Lewis said. "I don't think we would rather be any place else. We all work hard and we all want to play our best. Everyone wants to be No. 1 ranked in the world, so why not be the No. 1 team."

Said teammate Paula Creamer, "I think we would be kind of bummed if we weren't No. 1. We did go on a really strong push there near the end of the criteria [prior to the selection in late March]."

Both Lewis and Creamer believe that the experience they and teammates Christie Kerr and Lexi Thompson have in the Solheim Cup — the biennial event that pits the U.S. against Europe — will give them an advantage.

"Stacy made a great point yesterday. With the European players, now they're playing for their country, and it's a little bit different," Creamer said. "They have never been able to do that as professionals, and we have done that."

Baltimore ties

Hall of Famer Judy Rankin, who will be roaming the fairways of Caves Valley in her regular duties as an analyst for the Golf Channel, has fond memories of Baltimore.

Playing in the 1962 Baltimore Classic at Turf Valley in Ellicott City as a 17-year-old who had recently turned pro, Rankin cashed her first check — for $50. A dozen years later, Rankin won after the tournament moved to Pine Ridge.

It was her 11th of 26 career victories, and it was memorable for what was going on in her life off the course.

"My son had the chicken pox and I had to get a babysitter that had chicken pox" recalled Rankin, now the grandmother of three.

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