Champ returns to defend Aussie PGA title

2023 Australian PGA Championship - Day 4
Min Woo Lee lifts the Joe Kirkwood Cup after winning last year’s Australian PGA title. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Reigning champion and Paris Olympics hopeful Min Woo Lee will return to Royal Queensland in November to defend his Australian PGA title.

Lee will be a part of a strong Australian PGA field that could also attract a host of LIV players following comments made last week by Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley.

Ridley’s confirmation that LIV player Joaquín Niemann had been invited to compete in the Masters on the back of two strong performances in Australia last year – fifth at Royal Queensland and victory at the following week’s Australian Open – has local golf officials hopeful of attracting more players from the Saudi-backed league, whose events aren’t considered for world ranking points.

Lee, now a full-time member of the America’s PGA Tour, shot 20-under at Royal Queensland last year to win by three strokes from Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino, with LIV golfer Marc Leishman a shot further back in third place.

“The Australian PGA Championship was a very special event for me last year, seeing a lot of friends, being in contention and then closing the win out on Sunday,” Lee said.

“The crowds at Royal Queensland are always awesome. It’s a great vibe that just keeps getting bigger.

“Coming back as the defending champion is going to be a new experience, but I’m already looking forward to it.”

2023 Australian PGA Championship - Day 4
Min Woo Lee celebrates with the fans at Royal Queensland last year. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Ranked 32 in the world, Perth-born Lee occupies one of Australia’s two qualifying spots for the men’s golf tournament at this year’s Olympic Games.

The other spot remains in the hands of the 21st-ranked Jason Day, the former world No.1, who PGA organisers are hopeful of also luring to Royal Queensland this year.

PGA of Australia chief executive Gavin Kirkman said it was a “huge boost” that Lee would defend his title at the November 21-24 event co-sanctioned by the DP World Tour.

“Min put on an awesome show last year, showing why he is one of world golf’s biggest drawcards,” Kirkman said.

“He has that ‘X-factor’ that golf fans here in Australia and overseas love to see and get behind.

“We have already experienced strong early ticket sales for this year’s event and having confirmation from Min that he will be coming back to Royal Queensland should give us another huge boost.”

The most recent player to secure back-to-back Australian PGA titles was Cameron Smith, who won the event in 2017 and 2018, as well in 2022.

Queensland Minister for Tourism and Sport Michael Healy said: “This is terrific news, having one of the world’s most exciting and dynamic players in Min Woo Lee commit to return and defend his Australian PGA title at the historic Royal Queensland course later this year.”

Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner was “thrilled” about Lee’s return.

“Brisbane is proud to host the Australian PGA Championship once again,” Schrinner said.