CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) - South Korean Yang Yong-eun entered territory where no Asian male had gone before when he upstaged Tiger Woods by winning the U.S. PGA Championship by three strokes on Sunday.
Despite several near misses since Taiwan’s Lu Liang-huan ran Lee Trevino desperately close at the 1971 British Open, the golfing world had patiently awaited the first Asian-born winner of a major.
Yang’s astonishing breakthrough at the expense of Woods on a sun-splashed afternoon at Hazeltine National was simply a matter of time, according to the American world number one.
“It was going to happen one day,” Woods, who has a Thai mother, told reporters after bogeys on the last two holes snuffed out his hopes of a 15th major.
“If anyone would have thought it would have been a Korean player, people probably would have suspected it to be KJ (Choi) because obviously he’s played well for such a long period.
“But Y.E. has won now a couple of big events. He won one here in the States prior to this down in West Palm (Beach) and he’s getting better. He’s playing better.
Yang, who began the final round at Hazeltine two strokes behind the pacesetting Woods, won his maiden PGA Tour title at the Honda Classic in Florida in March.
“We’ve had a lot of great players over the years, starting with Jumbo (Ozaki), and Isao (Aoki) has come close,” added Woods, who struggled on the greens on the way to a three-over 75.
Since the popular Mr Lu with his distinctive pork pie missed out to Trevino by a stroke at Royal Birkdale, Asia has celebrated only two other second-place finishes at major championships.
Japan’s Aoki, one of golf’s best exponents of the short game, broke the 72-hole scoring record in the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol but even that was not enough as Jack Nicklaus trimmed it by another two shots to win.
In the 1985 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills, Taiwan’s T.C. Chen equalled the tournament record for the first 36 and 54 holes but his victory hopes disappeared with a 77 to tie for second, a stroke adrift of Andy North.
In recent years, Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee, Japan’s Shigeki Maruyama of Japan and Korean Choi have raised hopes in Asia, but it was Yang who finally wrote his name into the record books.
Asked what impact his breakthrough win would have in the region, Yang replied: “I think you have to go back to ‘98 with the women’s golf when Pak Se-ri won the U.S. Open.”
Korean Pak moved to the U.S. as a 20-year-old and clinched two majors in her rookie season in 1998, the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open.
“That really created a huge boom in Korea golf-wise where everybody started picking up clubs instead of tennis rackets and baseball bats,” added Yang, speaking through an interpreter.
“And with KJ Choi winning his first tournament (the 2002 New Orleans Classic) on the oh-so-tough PGA Tour, that also increased golf’s popularity.
“I hope my win would be something quite parallel to an impact, both for golf in Korea as well as golf in Asia, so that all the young golfers, Korean and Asian, will be able to build their dreams and expand their horizons a bit.”
Editing by Ian Ransom
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