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2 more top pro golfers put down roots in Las Vegas

Las Vegas continues to draw many of the top golfers in the game, with two more rapidly ascending stars making the city home this year.

Australian star Min Woo Lee has made the move to coincide with his status as a PGA Tour member for the first time, while LPGA phenom Rose Zhang has relocated as she plays her first full season as a professional.

They join close to three dozen players with tour status now living in Southern Nevada.

Zhang, 20, won her professional debut last summer and played on the U.S. Solheim Cup team after finishing arguably the greatest women’s amateur career in modern history. She is a two-time NCAA individual champion, a winner of the U.S. Amateur and the Augusta National Women’s Am, and captured 12 titles in 20 events while playing at Stanford. She is continuing to complete her college degree while playing on the LPGA Tour, and will do that from her new home base in Las Vegas.

Lee’s arrival in Las Vegas comes at the invitation of friend and fellow pro Kurt Kitayama, who has welcomed him into his home as a roommate.

“I’ll stay there for the first little bit, until he kicks me out,” Lee said jokingly. “So, hopefully, a little longer than I expect.”

Kitayama welcomes the relationship.

“I’ve known him since the European Tour, and we just kind of developed a really good relationship,” Kitayama said. “We would have weeks off where, instead of going to Australia, he would come to Vegas. We had a lot of good times. He figured Vegas was going to be a good spot for him. Now that he has a tour card, he wanted to find a base, and I had a room open for him.”

The two are part of a tight-knit group of fellow pros and Las Vegas residents that includes Collin Morikawa, David Lipsky and Justin Suh. They often practice together or just hang out, Kitayama said.

“We play video games quite a bit,” he said of Lee. “He’s probably one of the best out here at Call of Duty, so when we play with him, if we’re not holding our own, he’s yelling at us because he thinks we’re supposed to be like the streamers he plays with in dominating a game.”

Lee, 25, has developed a reputation among fans as an extrovert with a big personality and a game to match. His fans can often be seen on the course wearing chef’s hats with the phrase “Let Him Cook,” Lee’s go-to phrase on his Instagram account.

Kitayama said Lee’s persona is exactly the same off the course.

“Yeah, he’s a goofball,” Kitayama said. “On camera and off camera, he’s the same guy. He’s a lot of fun to be around.”

SNGA Championship

Joe Sawaia survived a shaky Sunday to hang on and win the SNGA Championship, one of the first significant events on the 2024 local golf calendar.

Sawaia, the longtime Coronado High coach and father of two players at UNLV, built a lead with an opening-round 65 that featured eight birdies at Highland Falls. He struggled to a 74 on Sunday at Palm Valley to finish at 5-under 139 and a one-shot win over Matt Mitchell and Nick Horodesky.

In the Senior division, only three sub-par rounds were shot, and Todd Roberts had two of them. He finished at 3-under 141 for a four-stroke win over Kelly Knievel.

The Silver division was a two-man race, with Chris Cookson finishing at even-par 144 to hold off Patrick Woerner by a stroke. They were 10 shots clear of the next closest competitor.

Other winners included Joseph Noya (Championship net), Roberts (Senior net) and Stephen Sitar (Silver net).

Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at grobertson@reviewjournal.com.

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