Fred Lee's Life Shaped by 9/11 Twist of Fate July 21, 2016 | Ooltewah, Tenn. By David Shefter, USGA

Golf and 9/11 have had a profound effect on Australian Fred Lee's life. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

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Most people remember where they were on Sept. 11, 2001. It’s a seminal day in American history when terrorists rammed two commercial jets into the World Trade Center. Another jet crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth was overtaken by passengers before it could hit its intended target, instead crashing into an open Western Pennsylvania field.

Fred Lee was only a toddler and can’t remember the horror. His father, David, worked in the World Trade Center, but that day was out playing golf with friends. The attacks killed 2,996 people and injured more than 6,000 others.

David Lee had witnessed a similar attack on the World Trade Center eight years earlier. He was on one of the top floors of the North Tower when terrorists set off a bomb in the parking garage. With electricity cut off, David had to take the stairs through the smoke and inhalation to safety. He made sure to take a piece of shattered glass as a keepsake.

The 9/11 attack, however, was the last straw. David Lee moved his family, which included wife Jenny, a 2-year-old Fred and his now 29-year-old brother Jimmy, to Western Australia.

Golf had played an integral part in keeping the family together, and it’s still doing that today.

Fred, who turns 16 on July 29, is now one of Australia’s top junior golfers. His skills have been on display this week at The Honors Course, where on Thursday he advanced to the quarterfinals in his first U.S. Junior Amateur Championship appearance. Lee dispatched stroke-play medalist Travis Vick in the Round of 16, 2 and 1, to earn a final-eight matchup on Friday morning against No. 9 seed Noah Goodwin, of Corinth, Texas. Earlier on Thursday, he overcame a loss-of-hole penalty for being late to the first tee in defeating Wocheng (Aden) Ye, 3 and 2.

And it all can be traced back to that fateful day in 2001.

“Ever since, he’s been a golf fanatic,” said Fred, who earned his spot in the field by being inside the top 400 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ (he is currently No. 117), of his father.

One day, his father was watching a tournament on television when a young Fred waddled next to him and began imitating the golf swing. A few days later, his father purchased him a plastic set of clubs. A couple of years later, his dad purchased a kid’s set and took Fred to a nearby park when he was 4. The first few attempts were futile. Fred described it as “mishits, shanks, tops and duffs.” But then Fred began hitting shots straight in the air and a passion was born.

“He said to my mom after, ‘I think he has a lot of potential,’” said Fred. “Just keep him going at it and see how it goes.”

Two years later, Lee claimed his first junior tournament at Wanneroo Golf Club in Western Australia. That day, he beat Min Woo Lee by five strokes. Min Woo, the brother of 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Minjee Lee, also advanced to the quarterfinals this week, and the friendship and golf rivalry has nurtured over the years. Both are members at Royal Fremantle Golf Club, but Fred also plays out of Royal Perth.

“It’s really good to have him here,” said Fred. “We haven’t spoken much, but it’s just nice to know that one of your friends from so long ago is still doing well.”

Lee was actually born in Manhasset, N.Y., on the North Shore of Long Island. Both of his parents are Chinese, and Lee isn’t sure how his father ended up with a job in the World Trade Center. Fred says his father, a stockbroker in Perth, doesn’t talk much about those days, and the family has not returned to New York.

This is Fred’s second trip to the U.S., the first coming two years ago when he competed in the World Junior Golf Championship in San Diego, Calif. He said he’d love to get to New York someday – he’s only seen video – but it won’t happen in 2016. After the U.S. Junior, he’ll fly to Seattle to play in next week’s Pacific Coast Amateur at Seattle Golf Club. He also plans on visiting a few U.S. colleges before returning to Perth.

“Any school with obviously a good facility and program,” said Lee. “I’ve looked at ASU (Arizona State) and UCLA, and a few more.”

A well-rounded student, Lee said he’s envisioned doing something in the medical field, but that course of study could be too much for someone thinking about a professional future in golf. Then again, Lee still has time to ponder those options. He won’t enroll in college for another two years.

Right now, his focus is on the Junior Amateur. Getting to the quarterfinals ensures Lee of a spot in next year’s championship at Flint Hills National. Two more wins would land him a spot in next month’s U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills and a win would be a life-changing moment.

To date, his biggest victory is the 2016 Western Australia Amateur, an event won in 2015 by Min Woo Lee. Another Western Australian, Oliver Goss, the 2013 U.S. Amateur runner-up and 2014 Masters low amateur, also is a past champion.

“It’s really exciting,” said Lee of his first Junior Amateur experience. “This is probably the biggest junior event in the world. But the biggest thing for me is I am having a lot of fun.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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