Lee finished the season in 6th position in the Rolex World Ranking for Women’s golf, improving from 19th at the start of the year courtesy of a remarkable run of consistency throughout the year.
Lee won only one event on the LPGA Tour in 2018 but she also won the Victorian Open in her homeland and in a total of 29 starts worldwide she was runner-up on four other occasions and recorded a total of 11 top five finishes and 15 top tens.
Her earnings on the LPGA Tour, amounting to US$1,551,000, saw her finish the year in 2nd position on the money list there and although some US$1.2 million behind the tearaway, Ariya Jutanugarn, it was by far Lee’s best year on the LPGA Tour, her previous best having come in 2016 when 12th with earnings of US$1.2 million.
With now four LPGA Tour titles to her name, Lee’s next goal is no doubt to contend and potentially win a major championship, an arena in which she has performed below the level she has in regular LPGA Tour events to date.
In 25 major championship career starts Lee has finished inside the top ten on only three occasions the best of those coming in 2017 when 3rd at the ANA Championship and a 9th place the next best at the 2015 Women’s British Open.
Whichever way you look at things, Lee’s performances in 2018 deserve recognition as Australia’s best in 2018, which it has, but in order for her to join the absolute elite of the female game she needs to perform better in the ultimate of all tests and where career reputations are made - the majors.
Her greater consistency in 2018 suggests that goal will be achieved sooner rather than later.
Cameron Smith gets the nod as Australia’s most successful male golfer (arguably) in 2018 having improved from 61st at the end of 2017 to 28th following his Australian PGA Championship victory in early December.
Cameron Smith with his PGA Championship trophy
Admittedly Jason Day won twice on the PGA Tour and Marc Leishman won and finished runner-up on one occasion and finished second to Smith at the Australian PGA Championship but Smith’s ongoing rise in world golf provides a reasonable case for him to be considered Australia’s most impressive male golfer in 2019.
Smith will start 2019 in 28th position in the world ranking which, along with making the limited Tour Championship field, guarantees him starts in all of the major championships and opens the door further for his remarkable progression in his now three years on the PGA Tour.
Smith has yet to win an individual title on the PGA Tour but there has been enough evidence to suggest that milestone along with even higher honours is not far away.
In 2018 Smith finished 5th in just his second appearance at the Masters Tournament and while not his best finish in a major (that came when 4th at the 2015 US Open) it, perhaps more than any other performance in his career to date, signalled that he has what it takes to succeed at the highest level.
His second consecutive Australian PGA Championship title came in early December and further confirms his status as one of Australia’s best in recent years.
Already in his short career Smith has accumulated earnings of US$7.6 million on the PGA Tour in addition to monies he has secured elsewhere but there is little doubting that there is a lot more to come.
While the four outlined above produced impressive golfing years in 2018 there were one or two other Australian performances worthy of mention.
Lucas Herbert began the year in 278th position in the world ranking and finished in 83rd place courtesy of several brilliant performances on the European Tour when playing on either invite or courtesy of a top ten at his previous start.
Herbert finished the season in 47th place in the Race to Dubai standings and gained his full 2019 European Tour status courtesy of four top 5 finishes in European Tour events. He did well enough to play his way into the DP World Tour Championship and while his last few events proved a little of a disappointment for the impressive Victorian it was very much a case of mission accomplished.
Lucas Herbert - earned European Tour status for 2019 the hard way.
Another to make huge strides in the early stages of his career was Queenslander Jake McLeod who began the year in 526th place and rose to 151st as a result of a remarkably consistent series of performances in Australasian and Asian Tour events.
It was late in the year however where it all came together for the 24 year old when winning the NSW Open and following up with a 3rd place finish behind Abraham Ancer and Dimi Papadatos at the Australian Open.
Those efforts ensured McLeod would secure his place at the top of the Australasian Tour’s Order of Merit and for being the leading player on that Order of Merit and not otherwise exempt for the European Tour he won the right to play the European Tour in 2019.
Jake McLeod - Australasian Tour's Order of Merit winner
Another worthy of special mention was Canberra’s Brendan Jones who continued his remarkable career on the Japan Tour by finishing 8th on the money list there with earnings the equivalent of A$900,000.
Jones did not win in 2018 but he remains the Japan Tour’s highest ever earning foreigner with 14 titles and earnings just under A$13 million.
Jones improved from 294th to 128th in the world ranking, his best standing since undergoing career threatening wrist surgery in late 2013.
Brendan Jones - no wins in 2018 but another great season.
Cameron Davis won on the Web.Com Tour, eventually earning the right to play the PGA Tour and sits just outside the top 100 in the world while Dimi Papadatos won and finished runner-up on the Challenge Tour and after finishing runner-up at the Australian Open he would rise from 373rd to 158th in the world ranking.
Cameron Davis - now has PGA Tour status
Matthew Millar and Anthony Quayle are others whose 2018 seasons were also worthy of note, Millar so nearly securing the Australasian Tour money list with a remarkable level of consistency in mainly Australasian Tour events while Quayle, in his rookie season on the Japan Tour, has comfortably retained his right to play there in 2019.
Matthew Millar - with his 2018 New Zealand Masters trophy.
While the high profile Jason Day, Minjee Lee, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith stood out therefore there were several others in the next level down who gave evidence that they might one day be amongst the elite of the game.
While it has been more than three years since an Australian won a major championship there has been enough seen in 2018 to suggest the next one might not necessarily be such a long wait.
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