Asian golfers inspired by YE Yang's win
The morning after Y.E. Yang became the first Asian golfer to win a major championship, Peter Cho was too excited to go to work.
So he grabbed his teenage son, Alex, and headed for the driving range.
The Chos were hitting balls Monday morning at Majestic Golf Land, a three-story golf center near the city’s Koreatown neighborhood.
For South Koreans, Yang’s stunning win—over Tiger Woods, no less—in the PGA Championship was inspiring, even though many are Tiger fans.
“When Tiger wins, Korea’s happy. When a Korean wins, Korea’s happier,” Cho said. “It couldn’t be any better for us.”
The golf world was still abuzz Monday after Yang’s astonishing victory. The South Korean who grew up on a root-vegetable farm and had frustrated ambitions of being a body builder beat the world’s best golfer.
And did he ever do it in style—fending off Tiger with a couple of seriously ice-cold shots. First there was that 60-foot chip for eagle after Woods threatened to make birdie on No. 14.
And on the last hole, clinging to a one-shot lead against the man who had never before lost when he started the final round of a major atop the leaderboard, Yang hit the shot of his life. His 3-iron hybrid cleared a bunker and settled 12 feet away.
Yang finished off the birdie for a championship he—and new fans all over the world—won’t forget.
At the urban island of Majestic, rising green above a busy city center, most of the patrons are Korean. Signs are written in both Korean and English, and the newspaper boxes at the entrance carry the local Korean dailies.
Some of the golfers said they called home to Korea and heard about celebrations—not unlike the commotion in 1998 when South Korea’s Se Ri Pak won the U.S. Women’s Open.
Myung Kim, a South Korean-born golf pro at the range, said he knew that someday, someone would beat Woods.
“He’s not a god,” said Kim, 44. “I’m happy the Korean guy beat him.”
Not everyone at the range shared in the glee.
“I felt bad for Tiger—he returned to humanity,” said Bob Ingram, 56, of Los Angeles.
Sisters Penny and Peggy Kritaya were taking the loss hard. Penny furrowed her brow and paced the range’s deck as she recapped Woods’ round Sunday.
“I just don’t understand why!” she said, throwing up her hands in exasperation like a frustrated coach.
Hailing from Thailand themselves, the sisters said Woods’ Thai heritage got their attention in the mid-1990s.
Now, they come to the range three or four times per week and call themselves “big, huge Tiger fans.”
“He changed us,” Penny said. “He got us into the golf game.”
While Woods, whose mother is Thai, is celebrated across Asia, the region now has a homegrown men’s champion, too.
“It’s a great, great day for Asian golf,” Asian Tour executive chairman Kyi Hla Han told The Associated Press. “Probably our biggest day. It’s always been our hope that we will see an Asian player win a major, and that day is here.”
Suh Gee-young, who woke up early in Seoul to watch the tournament and take a few practice swings before work, called Yang an inspiration to other Asian-born players.
“I think Yang’s victory will give young Asian players a confidence that they can beat the odds in any situation,” he said in Seoul.
Max Garske, chief executive of the PGA of Australia, said Yang’s win will help nurture the sport in the region. He said Japan, with 17-year-old star Ryo Ishikawa, has some 15 million golfers and South Korea 3 million to 3.5 million, most playing only at driving ranges.
He said Yang’s win will also help in China, where the Australian PGA is in the second year of a program with the China Golf Association to train between 5,000 to 10,000 local Chinese coaches.
In New York, Yang’s victory dominated the clubhouse chatter Monday morning at Clearview Golf Course, a busy Queens layout.
“He’s strong in heart,” Han Chondson said before her round.
She was one of the many Koreans at the Bayside course that serves kimchi, the spicy pickled cabbage that is a Korean favorite.
“I’ve played golf all my life and it’s really surprising to me that he won a major,” 52-year-old Johnny Park said. “But he had experience beating Tiger in China and really had nothing to lose. I was really happy for him, but surprised Tiger lost.”
Park was giving some thought to watching Yang play in person next week at The Barclays, the FedEx Cup opener at Liberty National in Jersey City, N.J.
“Before his win, I never even thought about going,” Park said.
At Alley Pond Golf Center in Douglaston, N.Y., teaching pro Michael Jang pointed out Yang’s poise playing alongside Woods.
“I don’t think he was afraid of Tiger,” Jang said. “He had nothing to lose and that’s the best kind of mindset, to just play and enjoy the round with Tiger.
“Most of the older pros in Korea, like Yang and K.J. Choi, never had money growing up or parents who knew about golf. They had to do it all by themselves and had to work really hard to make it. That’s what makes them so strong.”
The 38-year-old Jang will long remember Yang’s breakthrough victory.
“I became a U.S. citizen, but I got Korean blood in my heart,” Jang said.
August 18, 2009