The name Yong-Eun (Y.E.) Yang was probably unknown to many of us two weeks ago, but as of Aug. 16, this man from South Korea is being credited with putting Asian golfers on the map. And he did it by defeating the reigning king of golf, Tiger Woods.
Woods is a juggernaut in his sport, having won more career major wins and PGA (Professional Golf Association) wins than any active golfer. He has never lost any U.S. tournament when leading by more than one shot — that is, until the 2009 US PGA championship. Yang, trailing two shots and previously ranked 110th, took him down to become the first Asian-born golfer to win a major tournament.
Yang’s story is one of incredible dedication and perseverance. Unlike Woods, who was encouraged to play from an early age, Yang’s interest in golf developed after high school, when he had a job on a local driving range and ended up practicing without the knowledge of his parents. He taught himself the maneuvers of the complicated game and didn’t take formal lessons until he turned pro in 1996.
“It really has not dawned to me the magnitude that everybody has been telling me what a big feat I have accomplished,” said Yang. “It just seems that I have become more famous, and that’s about it.”
Since his victory, Yang has been in the middle of a whirlwind of press, including meeting with former President George W. Bush. Though heralded as a pioneer and trailblazer, Yang remains humble about his success. “I have the utmost respect for Tiger Woods, and I like him,” he said in an interview. “He’s cool. I like his swing. And there’s a lot to learn from him, not just as a golf player but as a person, as well.”
Here’s Yang making the final hole in the PGA Championship:
Photo of Y.E. Yang after defeating Tiger Woods in PGA Championship, by Getty Images, via Telegraph.co.uk