YANG TO DEFEND HONDA TITLE
February 16, 2010
Y.E. Yang, the reigning Honda Classic and PGA Championship title holder who is fresh off
one of the most improbable years in recent professional golf history, has committed to
defend his title in the 2010 Honda Classic, a PGA TOUR event in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.
Yang will again take on a strong international field on PGA National Resort & Spa's
Champion course, attempting to recreate the magic he crafted a year ago when he held off a
late charging John Rollins to notch his first career PGA TOUR victory. Yang two-putted from
50-feet to cap a final round of two-under 68 that put his four day total at 9-under-par 271
and earned him $1,008,000.
"It was actually a pretty intimidating putt," Yang said of his birdie attempt from 50 feet.
"Looking at the green conditions on that hole, I asked myself, what do I need to do to two
-putt this? The grass was leaning towards the water, it was downhill, and very hard to
determine the speed."
The 37-year-old South Korean dashed out to an early four shot lead after nine holes on
Sunday. But when he made bogey at the par-3 17th after his tee shot found the greenside
bunker, his advantage was down to a single stroke.
Rollins, playing in the group ahead of Yang, drew within a shot after his birdie at the
par-5 18th. But Yang made par on his final hole to secure the one-stroke victory.
"From 50 feet, it's not easy to do that to win your first PGA TOUR event," said Rollins. "I
did all I could do. My hat's off to (Yang)."
Rollins (67) finished alone in second. Ben Crane (68) was third, Jeff Klauk (71) finished
fourth, while the four-way tie for fifth included Jupiter residents Robert Allenby (70) and
Will MacKenzie (70).
Yang's victory in '09 was in stark contrast to his '08 Honda experience, when he entered
the final round at PGA National Resort and Spa dead last in the field and played by himself
in only one hour and 53 minutes. One year later, instead of holing his final putt in
solitude, he had a throng of raucous fans cheering him on as he made a jubilant victory lap
around the 18th green, slapping high fives and grinning from ear to ear.
"That was pure emotion," said Yang. "I felt all the fans were supporting me, and I just
wanted to thank them."
South Korea is known as a hotbed for women professional golfers. The top women golfers from
South Korea are so good that they aren't far from outnumbering Americans on the LPGA Tour.
The result at many women's Tour stops often flows through the Korean contingent.
That hasn't been the case on the PGA TOUR, where K.J. Choi was the lone fixture from South
Korea for many years.
Yong-Eun Yang, shortened to Y.E. Yang for American audiences, was never good enough to
overshadow the buzz created by those ladies, even if he had overtaken Choi as the most-
skilled male golfer in his homeland.
The confidence and wisdom that Yang picked up that Honda Sunday propelled him to even
greater heights five months later when he won a Sunday duel with Tiger Woods at the PGA.
Now he was a household name in golf circles worldwide even though people knew so little
about him. Slowly, through his interpreter, details started to flow of his improbable
journey to these great heights in America.
He never even hit a golf ball until he was 19 years old, when a friend took him to a
driving range. This was during the early 1990s, when South Korea was amid what Yang calls
an "economic miracle" transition to the world capitalist economy.
Yang was into working out and lifting weights back then until he fell down a flight of
stairs and tore his ACL. He couldn't lift anymore.
A friend recommended he work at a local driving range. And when he found out you could get
paid for playing golf, Yang thought, "I'll try that."
But his newfound obsession hit a road block when he began mandatory service in the South
Korean military at the age of 21. On conclusion of his service, he moved to New Zealand for
three months, where he played golf every day in pursuit of a professional career.
Yang played in South Korean tournaments for several years and eventually became good enough
to join the Japan Tour, which is the big tour in Southeast Asia. He won four tournaments,
which qualified him in 2006 to play in an international event called the HSBC Championship
in Shanghai. It was there that he defeated, among others, Tiger Woods, a glimpse of what
That success made him think he was ready to take on the best players in the world on the
PGA TOUR in 2007. He went to the PGA TOUR's Qualifying School and earned his Tour card.
Forty six events and another Q School conquest later, Yang was holding The Honda Classic
"Ever since I won the HSBC Champions, there were a lot of expectations, from people around
me, and even on myself that I had," Yang said. "For the past two years, it was actually
kind of frustrating for me. I wasn't able to win. My performances were just not that great.
My World Rankings had fallen down.
"I just felt bad for my sponsors, TaylorMade and Le Coq Sportif in Korea. I wanted to show
them that I was the top player that they expected of me. But winning today, I feel very
relieved. All of the pressure is off my shoulders, and the way that -- what I did when I
clapped all of the fans after I won, I did that out of pure emotions. I felt like they were
supporting me and I just wanted to thank them. That's what I felt. "
Yang began the 2009 season ranked 460th in the world, so nobody really could identify with
him as he made his Honda run with three straight birdies on the front nine and wouldn't
fold as others tried to play their way into contention.
"I actually saw the leaderboard. It was back on hole No. 12. I noticed that there was a
three-shot difference, and then it went down to a two-shot difference, and then when I
birdied again, I made it three shots again," Yang said. "I knew that there were still six
difficult holes left. I knew that I had to just keep on maintaining my pace. I knew that,
you know, I could bogey, but I also knew that other players could bogey, too, because these
are all difficult holes. So I just tried to take each hole one at a time."
Rollins made birdie at the par-5 18th to get within two shots of Yang, who was one hole
behind and in a greenside bunker at the par-3 17th. And when Yang's 10-footer for par
tailed right and stopped short, the lead -- four shots earlier in the day -- was down to
Yang felt the pressure. He cringed when his third shot at the 18th sailed off target, far
left of the pin. But he coolly two-putted for the win.
"Up until the last four holes, I had fun," Yang said. "But those four holes, I think was
longer than my entire golfing career."
Yet Yang walked away from The Honda with more seasoning and every bit of it would come in
handy when he embarked on his Sunday duel with Woods at the 91st PGA Championship, Yang
becoming the fifth highest ranked player to ever win a major. Perhaps more surprising than
his win at Hazeltine was the player he defeated in order to hoist the Wanamaker trophy.
Tiger Woods was the only athlete alive that had always delivered in the clutch, 14 times
leading after 54-holes at a major, 14 times delivering a victory the next day, until that
late August Sunday in Minneapolis. Yang's final round 70 was five shots better than Tiger's
75. The victory was sealed with an approach to ten feet at the last that set up a birdie
and a three-shot victory.
In the post-round presser at Hazeltine, the magnitude of what Y.E. had just accomplished
wasn't lost on him.
"When I was at home or at a tournament watching Tiger, I'd usually try to visualize a
strategy on how to win if I ever played against Tiger," Yang said. "But when the chance
came, I sort of thought, Hey, I could always play a good round of golf and Tiger, he's
good, but he could always have a bad day, and I guess today was one of those days."
With his PGA Championship victory, Yang became the first Asian born male player to ever win
a major. He now belongs to a pair of distinguished groups. On one hand are the six men who
have beaten Tiger Woods in major championships. The short list includes Angel Cabrera, Zach
Johnson, Michael Campbell, Trevor Immelman and Rich Beem. The other is the players who've
gone on to major championship glory after making The Honda Classic their very first career
victory. Yang joins the trio of Larry Nelson, Padraig Harrington and Todd Hamilton.
Now this week in Palm Beach Gardens, Yang looks to achieve yet another feat, that being
successful defense of his title at The Honda Classic.