Farmer's boy makes good, Yang inspires South Korea

SEOUL Mon Aug 17, 2009 4:39am EDT

Yang Yong-eun of South Korea celebrates his victory after sinking a putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the 2009 PGA Championship golf tournament at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota August 16, 2009. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan

Yang Yong-eun of South Korea celebrates his victory after sinking a putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the 2009 PGA Championship golf tournament at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota August 16, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Matt Sullivan

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's golf fans spent Monday in bleary-eyed bliss, the president lavished praise and a farmer in a remote part of the country was stunned after his son Yang Yong-eun pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the sport.

South Korean Yang, 37, became Asia's first male major winner after overhauling Tiger Woods in stunning fashion to clinch the U.S. PGA Championship by three shots Sunday.

"I had no idea Yong-eun was into golf when he was growing up," said Yang's father, an orange farmer on the resort island of Jeju.

"He played everything: baseball, basketball, volleyball and soccer. But I never dreamt of him becoming this huge world star in golf," Yang Han-joon told Reuters by telephone.

Raised in a poor farming household, Yang did not take up the sport until he was 19. He got into golf with a job gathering balls at a driving range frequented by tourists to pay for his gym membership and pick up pocket money.

The family struggled as Yang was developing his golf skills and he took several odd jobs to support himself, including working at a nightclub so he could train during the day, Yang said in interviews with local media.

Yang, who at first aimed just to be a pro at a local club, mastered his swing by watching golf greats on video.

He entered the Korean Professional Golf Association in 1997, where he later won the rookie of the year award, and went on to play in Japanese professional golf tournaments in 2004.

GOOD ATHLETE

Although Yang was a relative unknown until his PGA victory, he was a celebrity in Jeju and at his former high school.

"Yang has more than once donated his winnings from previous golf tournaments to the school," said Seo Jong-pil, the principal of Jeju High School from which Yang graduated in 1989.

"He gave 2 million won ($1,600) to the school after he won the Honda Classic in March," Seo told Reuters by telephone.

Yang had mostly been overshadowed in South Korea by a slew of successful women and the top Korean golfer on the men's tour, K.J. Choi.

That was until he battled Tiger Woods in the final round of the PGA Championship, which started in the pre-dawn hours of Monday local time.

South Korea President Lee Myung-bak called Yang shortly after he won the tournament to offer congratulations, local media said.

Yang's father told Reuters the win had left him speechless and he said he was proud of his son's charity work and efforts to help people struggling on Jeju.

"My son is a good athlete, but there can be others from our island. My hopes are that he will be the one to help them grow," he added.

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