How Y.E. Yang stood up to Tiger Woods – and shocked the world
The South Korean pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sports on Sunday by beating golf legend Tiger Woods in the 91st PGA Championship with calm insouciance.
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“Until I was 19 and picked up my first club, I was like anybody else in the world, just an average Joe,” Yang said. “Then I feel in love with golf.”Skip to next paragraph
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Yet it was the indefatigable South Korean who was hoisting the trophy at the end of the day on Sunday – and getting a congratulatory call from South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, which underscores how big a victory this was in his homeland.
In fact, Yang’s victory marked the first ever by an Asian-born player in one of golf’s four majors.
His storybook triumph will, no doubt, inspire a new generation of South Koreans – and perhaps Asians – to pick up a wedge and a hybrid club. It’s not that golf isn’t already popular in the region. It is. Wildly. But look what fellow countryman Se Ri Pak’s victories on the LPGA Tour starting in the late 1990s did for young women in South Korea. There are now so many talented young South Koreans on the American women’s tour that on some Sundays the leader board reads like the Seoul phonebook.
Yang’s improbable victory on one of golf’s biggest stages – and against the hegemonic Tiger – will have its own ripple effects. The way he did it was noteworthy enough – with an almost calm insouciance. Maybe it’s because he wasn’t supposed to win. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t speak much English and didn’t read all the stories about whey he shouldn’t win. It didn’t hurt that he plays well in windy conditions, which is why he used to be called “son of the wind” in Korea.
“I personally know Yang and what distinguishes him from other players is his emotional stability,” South Korean golf coach Kim Won-jun told the Associated Press.
Yang certainly was unflappable one on Sunday. He was the one who sunk the chip on the 14th hole for an eagle and the first lead of the tournament. He was the one who went into the final hole with a precarious one-shot lead and daringly arced his hybrid over the tree.
Then he sank the put, giving him a three-shot victory, punctuated by a Tiger-like fist pump.
“I visualized this quite a few times, playing the best player in the final round in a major championship,” Yang told reporters on Sunday. “When the chance came, I sort of thought that, hey, I could always play a good round of golf and Tiger – Tiger’s good, but he could always have a bad day.”
NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller is always asking from the broadcast booth: When is someone going to stand up to Tiger in a final round? On Sunday, an unknown South Korean who used to be a bodybuilder did.
But don’t expect once a Tiger vanquished, always a Tiger vanquished. He thrives on challenges almost more than anyone in sports. He’ll no doubt be back with a trophy in a major – soon.