Until Y.E. Yang’s stunning win at the PGA, the most memorable moment in a major had perhaps been K.J. Choi’s surprising Masters run a few years back. The simple, back-and-through mechanics that led Yang to a win on Sunday at Hazeltine certainly conjure up the ghosts of Choi’s greatest moments, with a couple of important differences.
First, modern equipment and a longer, less compact swing help make Yang significantly longer than Choi was (is), a point not to be overlooked on a golf course longer than 7,600 yards. On a few occasions in the final round, Yang outdrove Tiger when they were both hitting the same club off the tee. Even when Tiger went long, as on a par-5 when he smashed it 366 yards, Yang responded by hammering his own drive out past 330 onto a flat place in the fairway. Woods had driven it so far he had to hit from a severe downslope and ended up chunking his fairway wood 80 yards short. Although only 5’9, Yang is strong, as the CBS announcers were fond of noting throughout the final round, and his huge shoulder turn produces surprising power without sacrificing accuracy.
Second, Yang simply came up with brilliant shots down the stretch. Yang’s eagle chip-in on the short par-4 is already an instant classic, and turned what should have been an even match into a one-stroke lead. His brilliant 3-metal over the trees and bunker to 8 feet on 18 sealed the deal and reminded many of Tiger’s famous 7 iron from a downhill lie in the bunker in his last trip to Hazeltine. Some might argue that if Woods had made his normal quota of putts, the result might have been different, but the fact remains that Yang put constant pressure on Tiger with consistent ballstriking and clutch shots. The final margin was three strokes. Even if Tiger had made three clutch putts down the stretch, it is possible he could not have done better than a playoff. His was the kind of shotmaking rarely seen from the opposing side in a Woods final Sunday pairing, and it was the kind of shotmaking that deserved a trophy.
Many are wondering what effect Yang’s victory will have on golf in Asia. It will certainly encourage young male golfers, who are used to seeing Asians dominate on the LPGA Tour but have seen far less success on the men’s tour. Up-and-coming stars like Ryo Ishikawa are getting a lot of attention during tournaments on major U.S. TV stations and are bound to see even more in the wake of Yang’s PGA title. It will also probably lend a further measure of legitimacy to the Asian Tour, which is chock-full of good players and has a bright future.
What it cannot do, however, is bring down the cost of golf in countries like China and India in order to make it accessible to a wide range of young players. In China, for example, golf is primarily a game for businessmen played on courses costing the equivalent of one month’s salary for an average working Chinese just to play a single round. Golf may become more popular as a spectator sport, but in order to be widely played all over Asia, it must be made available to a much wider segment of the population, a task which is bound to take a great deal of time and a continued increase in the per-capita income in many Asian countries.
What’s right with Y.E. Yang? He plays golf the right way, won an important tournament with stellar play in dramatic fashion, and has raised the profile of golf in a strategic part of the world for golf’s future. He did this all while defeating perhaps the most recognizable figure in the sport’s history. And in the end, he celebrated gleefully, even goofily, with a broad smile on his face and his bag raised over his head. Let’s hope to see Yang competing for titles on Sunday afternoons for many years to come, and if not, we’ll always remember this one.