After pro golf odyssey, Gunn Yang readjusting to life as college player
By Tod Leonard
SAN DIEGO – To talk about it now gives Gunn Yang goosebumps.
When the former U.S. Amateur champion was finished with a fantastical but thoroughly grinding year that took him around the world to play in professional golf tournaments, he had a big decision to make: return to San Diego State, where a full-ride scholarship awaited, or go all in as a pro.
What gives Yang chills is that his Korean parents don't speak English, and his San Diego-based instructor, Glen Daugherty, doesn't speak Korean, but they used almost the exact same words to advise him.
"Your education is important. You're putting too much pressure on yourself. Give your golf game time to mature."
"I always listen to my parents, but I don't always follow what they tell me to do," Yang said, but on this one he could not argue.
SDSU head coach Ryan Donovan wondered all summer if Yang would be back, and he finally got the word just a couple of weeks before school started. Yes, Yang had decided to return as a 22-year-old junior after getting a taste of the perks and the grind of PGA Tour golf.
In an extraordinary run afforded him as the U.S. Amateur champ, Yang played in the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open and received exemptions into five other PGA Tour events and a handful of touranments in Asia and Australia.
He met Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, played alongside some of the tour's current big stars, and got friendly with players such as Tony Finau and Kevin Na.
Yang also was wholly humbled by the experience. He made only one pro cut – at Colonial, where he tied for 65th – and shot as many rounds in the 80s – two – as he did in the 60s.
"Nobody gets to have that experience except the U.S. Amateur champion, and I was the lucky one to do it last year," Yang said. "I felt really fortunate to be able to do it."
After months of traveling and practicing, mostly alone, it's been a surreal transition for Yang back to college campus life. He's got four classes and has been busy working his way back into the Aztecs team, for which he had only played sparingly before winning the U.S. Amateur in August 2014.
Before the Am win, Yang had his 25-percent scholarship taken away by Donovan because he had not earned playing time. Then the two had a heated discussion after the Amateur when Yang decided to take leave from the team to play on pro exemptions. Donovan later apologized to Yang and offered him a full-ride if he returned this fall.
Through all of his experiences in the pro events, Yang donned his SDSU-logoed gear.
"Honestly, it's been all positive for us," Donovan said. "He's got the knowledge from what he learned last year, and he's sharing stories with the guys. It's been pretty cool to see.
"He's been great with the team. Our first tournament he was asking every couple holes where everyone was at. It's kind of fun to hear, because that's important to us. He's intense; he's all in."
Yang was in the starting lineup for the Aztecs' first four tournaments, notching a 72.0 scoring average in 12 rounds. The team's top scorer is Italian junior Ricardo Michelini (70.50). Yang had two top-10 finishes, including a tie for eighth in last week's UCLA-hosted Gifford Collegiate at La Costa.
"I'm starting to get the sense of how I need to react and get along with my teammates," Yang said.
Yang admits he arrived back at SDSU completely burned out from a schedule that gave him no more than a handful of days off over the year. He is a player who works harder on the range than most and puts tremendous pressure on himself. That played out poorly at times when he wasn't getting the results he thought he should on the tour.
"I overdid it," he said. "My expectations were too high for where my game was."
He's trying to change that now.
"I'm back in college golf," Yang said. "Everybody is good out here too. I'm trying to play my best, but I'm not trying to do anything spectacular."
Not grinding as much has its rewards. Following his first day off in a while and with no pressure, Yang played Friday in an SDSU fundraiser at San Diego Country Club and shot 7 under par. The cause-effect wasn't lost on Yang.
"I've been putting too much stress on myself," he said. "I'm trying to take it easy, focus on school work, and do the normal things most college kids do – enjoy life."
This article was written by Tod Leonard from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.