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PGA Championship: Danny Lee's first-round 64 puts him one shot off lead at Bethpage Black

Danny Lee speaks to the media after the

Danny Lee speaks to the media after the first round of the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Thursday. Credit: James Escher

Pro golf is hard work, and you can ask Danny Lee about that.

For one round, at least, Lee’s hard work paid off on Thursday with a 6-under-par 64 that put him one shot back of leader Brooks Koepka in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

He threw eight birdies at the Black with two bogeys, and after a bogey at 15 and an up-and-down par on 16, he finished birdie-birdie. His birdie on the 17th was his third of the day on the par 3s.

“My iron game has always been good, and I always have a lot of confidence in them,” Lee said. “And pins today were — I guess I really liked the pin locations today, what they gave us, and I was able to go straight at it every single time.”

Born in South Korea, Lee was raised in New Zealand. He won the 2008 U.S. Amateur champion at age 18, at the time the youngest player ever to win it. In 2009 he won the Johnny Walker Classic on European Tour and in 2012 he qualified for the PGA Tour. He lost his card, but got it back through the web.Com Tour the next season. He won the Greenbrier Classic in 2015 and while he has retained his playing privileges ever since, it’s been a grind.

“It's definitely tough out here playing in the Tour golf life,” Lee said. “It's not easy. Some of the top 20 guys in the world make it look easy, but it's not always fairy-tales and unicorns out here. I know I work really hard on getting my body strong because I always wanted to hit it further. I always wanted to carry — able to carry 290 bunker, straight over it, but I never had that until this year.”

Gaining distance, he said, has been key to competing against the top players. “I wasn't hitting it far enough to compete out here on the major championship — PGA Championship or U.S. Open. Masters I might have had a chance,” he said. “But now I'm definitely hitting it further. I can carry my driver about 290, 295 in the air. That's a huge bonus for me. And that was actually the first time I actually got to play in a major with this distance.

"I'm actually interested in myself what I can do out there this week.”

Lee has overcome a serious back injury that he suffered in 2017. 

“I played two holes, and something — I felt something on my back, and the only place I could go was lying on the ground,” he said. “The next morning when I got up from my bed, I could not move my legs. I never had that kind of injury before, so I was freaking out and was telling my wife, 'OK, are we going to open up a Korean barbecue restaurant now? And she's like, 'Hell no.'"

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