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Kiwi Lee in PGA hunt but it's not unicorns and fairytales

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Bethpage (United States) (AFP)

New Zealand's Danny Lee fired his lowest major round, a six-under-par 64, to stand second Thursday at the PGA Championship, then detailed the hardships and heartaches that went into it.

The South Korean-born world number 119, boosted by greater driving distance, made eight birdies and two bogeys at Bethpage Black to stand one stroke behind US defending champion Brooks Koepka in his 10th major start.

Lee opened his heart about the golf tour struggles fighting to keep a job every season.

"It's definitely tough out here," he said. "It's not easy. Some of the top 20 guys in the world make it look easy, but it's not always fairytales and unicorns out here.

"I work really hard on getting my body strong because I always wanted to hit it further but I never had that until this year.

"When the results are not there, it definitely gives you a little heartbreak and a little bit of terror out there, and some of the media is expecting me to do better than that.

"Sometimes I get a little bit disappointed about that, my honest feelings, but all I can do is do my best."

It's even harder because it's not just himself he's playing for, it's also his loved ones.

"My family is sacrificing out there for me to chase my dream," Lee said. "I sometimes feel like I'm a bad person when I play bad because a young baby and my wife and my mother-in-law (are) traveling with me out here, and when I don't make a good result, it just makes me feel like I didn't do what I'm supposed to do. I definitely have that kind of mindset in my head now."

- 'Dream-chasing work' -

Lee also understands he needs success before he has any hope of being a pitchman prospect.

"If you're maybe near top 50 in the world, it's OK, but outside of 100 in the world, your endorsement money is not great," he said. "Even I wouldn't pay an outside 100 in the world that much.

"And when you are fighting for your tour card every year, it's basically where you work. How would you feel when you lose your job tomorrow? And you put a lot of effort into it. You've tried your best and you did everything you could do, and you don't have a job tomorrow.

"That's the same feeling we have. I know it's a dream-chasing work, and I'm grateful and happy to be out here and happy for my opportunities out here."

Lee, whose best major finish was a share of 17th at the 2016 Masters, is in his first major since missing the 2017 PGA cut. Longer drives are part of the reason why.

"I wasn't hitting it far enough to compete out here," Lee said. "But now I'm definitely hitting it further.

"That was actually the first time I actually got to play in a major with this distance."

- 'I was freaking out' -

Lee, 28, moved to New Zealand with his family in 2001, becoming a citizen seven years later, just before winning the US Amateur. His lone US PGA title was at the 2015 Greenbrier Classic and his lone European Tour win at the 2009 Johnnie Walker Classic.

Lee recalled a torn back ligament a few years ago that left him unable to move his legs briefly.

"I was freaking out and telling my wife, 'OK, are we going to open up a Korean barbecue restaurant now?' And she's like, 'Hell no.'"

Lee has overcame his injury but notes it's because "me and my trainer put a lot of good work into it. And he's not an easy, nice trainer, either. He kicks my ass every time we work out."

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