South Korea’s Y.E.Yang is still coming to terms with his historic victory at the PGA Championship where he became the first Asian-born golfer to win a major title.
It was a triumph made the more remarkable because he was paired with overnight leader Tiger Woods in the final round and even Yang could scarcely believe he had defied the odds to win. “If I were to tee off tomorrow, I wish it wouldn’t happen,” Yang told CNN, acknowledging that the prospect of going head-to-head with Tiger is never a prospect to be relished. And if the same happened again “There’s no guarantee that I can win again,” was his modest reply. Yang, who was ranked 110th in the world ahead of the final major of the season at Hazeltine, eventually beat Woods, the world number one, by three shots. It was the first time that Woods had ever lost a major when leading going into the final round and a stunning upset. The 37-year-old Yang has spent the time since his August 16 triumph adjusting to this new stratosphere of sports celebrity, from being followed by international media to a congratulatory phone call from South Korea’s president. It is the pinnacle of a sports career with the humblest of beginnings. Yang grew up in Jeju, South Korea, the son of a vegetable farmer. The fourth of eight children, he had the dream of becoming a bodybuilder and owning his own gym. But in his late teens, a knee injury ended his bodybuilding career. At age 19, Yang took a job at a driving range and started hitting balls after-hours.
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Yang got the golf bug and learned to swing watching instructional videos by Jack Nicklaus. His father, calling golf the game of the elite, warned his son to give it up. But he has now warmed to his son’s golfing exploits and watched the PGA Championship avidly from his home in Jeju. “His caddy and I have often talked that if he gets in contention with Tiger,” said Brian Mogg, Yang’s swing coach, “he might be the guy that can take Tiger down, just because I’ve never seen a tour player ever put less pressure on himself to get out of his game. Golf is a game, it’s not life and death.” Golf fan Bart Wickard, who called the tournament one of golf’s greatest moments, said Yang’s triumph is an inspiration to other leading players. “I think it opens the door to every golfer that if YE Yang can do it, they can, too,” he said. Yang has moved with his wife and three children to Dallas, Texas and plans to build an indoor driving range, like the one he once worked at in Korea. He is also thirsty for further success on the game’s elite stage.
Now up to 18th in the world rankings, Yang knows that on his day he can match Tiger, but says the American superstar is still the best of the best “a giant player in a different league,” he said. But he will forever relish the moment when David found golf’s Goliath’s weak spot one glorious Sunday at Hazeltine.