YE Yang enjoying new celebrity status
It didn’t take long for Y.E. Yang to appreciate the celebrity status that comes with being the first player to take down Tiger Woods in a major championship.
During a whirlwind week after Yang rallied from two shots behind to beat Woods in the PGA Championship, the 37-year-old South Korean headed to Carlsbad, Calif., for a meeting with TaylorMade, one of his sponsors. He met with the marketing and production crew, and felt like a rock star during a sales meeting when employees chanted his name.
Then he strolled over to a practice facility and met former President George W. Bush.
“He came up to me very casually, like a next-door neighbor, started talking with me,” Yang said through his interpreter.
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Turns out Bush had been to Jeju Island, Yang’s hometown in South Korea for a speech, and they chatted for 30 minutes about Bush’s relationship with South Korea president Lee Myung-bak and the coincidence of Bush’s visit to Jeju Island coming so close to Yang becoming the first Asian-born player to win a major.
“He asked me whether it was nerve-racking to play with Tiger for 18 holes, especially on the 18th hole,” Yang said. “And before I could answer, he said it must have been less nerve-racking than his eight years in office.”
They also arranged for a round of golf. Bush and Yang both recently moved to the Dallas area.
“We sort of promised to have a round of golf sometime when our schedules were OK,” Yang said. “And I told him that I would actually be willing to skip a tournament or two if he were willing to play golf with me. So, I’m looking forward to that, as well.”
Winning the PGA Championship has been slow to sink in for Yang.
Not many remember that he won the HSBC Champions in Shanghai by two shots over Woods in 2006, perhaps because they did not go head-to-head as they did in the final round at Hazeltine two weeks ago. His only PGA Tour victory had been the Honda Classic in March.
Celebrity showed up quickly.
Yang figures he slept only 20 hours during the week after the PGA Championship as he tried to handle media requests from all parts of the world. His press conference Wednesday at The Barclays was broadcast via satellite because of interest from the Korean media. More than two dozen Korean reporters were on site, and the first 30 minutes were devoted to Korean-only questions.
At the Presidents Cup, to be played in October in San Francisco, tour officials are hosting a “viewing party” with a large contingent of Korean media and prominent business leaders from the Bay Area. Mayor Gavin Newsom is expected to attend.
“It really has not dawned to me the magnitude that everybody has been telling me what a big feat I have accomplished,” Yang said. “It just seems that I have become more famous, and that’s about it.”
About the only person he hasn’t met since Hazeltine is the guy he beat.
“I have not interacted with Tiger again,” Yang said. “The only thing that I really did was today before the pro-am, I just passed by him. We never even made eye contact. So that’s about it.”
If Yang still has vivid memories of his landmark victory in a major, so does Woods.
Yang closed with a 70, sewing up the victory with a 3-iron utility club around a tree and barely over a bunker for a final birdie. Woods missed four putts inside 12 feet on the back nine that could have made a difference, and he missed a final one for par that gave him a 75.
It was 15th time Woods had at least a share of the lead going into the final round in a major, and first time he failed to win.
“That night was tough, no doubt,” Woods said. “It was disappointing that I didn’t win, especially since I was hitting it so well on Sunday. But it’s just like golf, you move on to the very next week. Went home and took a few days off, away from golf, and didn’t touch the clubs after three straight weeks of playing golf just about every day. I was a little tired of it.”
Yang, despite his lack of sleep, doesn’t feel that tired. Nor is he about to apologize for ending one of the more amazing streaks in golf.
“In some ways, you could say that I was the party pooper to Tiger’s long streak,” Yang said. “I have the utmost respect for Tiger Woods, and I like him. He’s cool. I like his swing. And there’s a lot to learn from him, not just as a player, but as a person. … We always agree that Tiger Woods has bettered the game of golf.
“I’m a bit sorry, but if I had to do it again, I would still try and win.”
August 27, 2009