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Y.E. Yang 2009 PGA Grand Slam of Golf

Y.E. Yang -- PGA Champion

PGA Grand Slam of Golf Appearance(s): 2009
Major Championship Wins: 2009 PGA Championship
Worldwide Victories: 9
Height: 5' 9"
Weight: 195
Birthdate: Jan. 15, 1972
Birthplace: Jeju-do, Korea
Residence: Seoul, South Korea and Southlake, Texas
Family: Wife, Young Ju Park; Children: Hyeonwoo (1999), Isu (2000), Kyungmin (2005)
Special Interests: Sports, fishing
Turned Professional: 1996

By Bob Denney, The PGA of America

There are customs that we have yet to learn and apply. In Korea, for example, the family name is listed before a given name.

Therefore, Yang Yong-Eun -- whose name is inscribed on the metal band that circles the Wanamaker Trophy as "Y.E. Yang,"-- will never be confused by one universal salutation -- he is a PGA Champion and a history-maker of major proportions.

Born on the southern tip of the South Korean island province of Jeju-do, Yang is the fourth of eight children. He started to play golf at the age of 19 while picking golf balls part time and later working as a golf instructor at Jeju's Ora Country Club.

Yang discovered golf when a family friend allowed him to work at a driving range. He taught himself how to play after picking up a club at the range.

Across golf-mad South Korea, his victory seemed likely to inspire national honors for Yang and even greater devotion to a game that became popular there only about 20 years ago.

Though he now has coaches, Yang is a self-taught golfer. Yang studied the movements of players who visited his golf club.

There were many obstacles in Yang's path. While attempting to get a "proper job," he fell down a flight of stairs and tore his ACL while he was learning to use an excavator for a construction company.

After recovering from his knee injury, he began mandatory service in the South Korean military at the age of 21. At the conclusion of his service, Yang moved to New Zealand, where he pursued a professional career in golf. On Aug. 22, 1996, the same year that Tiger Woods declared "hello world," at a news conference -- Yang also declared himself a professional.

A commitment that someone puts into pumping iron is well documented, but Yang also proved that he had the rare crossover talent from the gym to the golf course. By age 23, he had earned a berth on the Asian Tour.

It wasn't until 2004 that Yang would experience victory, winning twice that season on the Japan Tour. In 2006, he became the second South Korean golfer to win on the European Tour when he captured the HSBC Championship, holding off Woods to snap the world No. 1 player's two-month streak of tournament victories.

Little did anyone realize how Yang would evolve into one of the great spoilers in golf history on Aug. 16, 2009, when he staged the largest comeback in PGA Championship history - falling nine strokes off the pace early in the second round -- before mounting his charge to catch and stun the golf world by defeating Woods on a Sunday in a major championship.

That second gear that Yang discovered in Minnesota, he said, wasn't unlike the steady play he exhibited back in March in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., when he rallied to win the Honda Classic -- his first victory on the PGA Tour and eighth as a professional.

Desperate to make the cut at the PGA Championship - which was the 20th major he had entered in his career -- Yang said he relaxed and "stopped trying to force it. And somehow it all just came back to me like [at the Honda Classic]."

He birdied the sixth hole, eagled the seventh, and collected three more birdies on the back nine to finish 2-under-par for the day and 1-under overall. His solid 67 in the third round was the best 18-hole effort of the day, moving him into a second-place tie with 2008 PGA Champion Padraig Harrington.

Paired with Woods in the final round, just as he was in the 2006 HSBC tournament, Yang put the pressure on early with a birdie on the third hole to tie Woods, who missed a three-foot par putt. The two traded the lead twice more before Woods stood by on the 14th and watched Yang chipped in for eagle. Though Woods would follow Yang's electric shot by making a birdie, he would never recover. The final question mark came at the challenging par-3 17th where Yang three-putted for bogey before Woods missed a comeback par putt from above the hole. Yang held the one-stroke margin heading into the final hole.

It was time for Yang's defining moment as a professional. He responded by curving a 3-hybrid from 190 yards around a left-hand tree near the edge of the fairway. The ball arrived near the flagstick and rolled just eight feet past the hole.

Woods, who has made a career out of such moments, hit his approach just off the green but into high rough that was part of the Hazeltine National fringe. Woods' ensuing chip rolled past the hole from where he two-putted for a bogey. Yang preceded Woods, knocking home his birdie putt for a 70, which tied for the day's best round and became a three-stroke victory.

Yang's triumph was the first major championship surpassed the runners-up performances by previous Asian standouts -- Lu Liang-Huan in the 1971 British Open, Isao Aoki in the 1980 U.S. Open and Tze-Chung Chen in the 1985 U.S. Open.

Back in Korea, Yang's brother, Yang Yong-hyuk, was happily exhausted after watching the Championship on television with other family members.

"I knew that my brother would win from Tiger Woods' facial expression, because he had the sour face as if things were not working," said Yang Yong-hyuk.

"My brother deserves the win because he worked so hard and on his own. He practiced and practiced until he got the shot right. He could not afford lessons, and all he could do was to teach by himself and practice until his shirt collars wore off."

Yang entered the PGA Championship ranked 110th in the world and walked away No. 34, with a Wanamaker Trophy that forever will carry his family's name.
 

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