Yang does best to represent
By Bill KWON
Special to The Advertiser
KAPALUA, Maui — Y.E. Yang looked around him at the SBS Championship and had to remark, "I must say there is a lot of Koreans here . . . It feels really comfortable. It's a good feeling. It's like playing in Korea."
You can't blame the 37-year-old South Korean for feeling right at home in the PGA Tour's season-opener at the Plantation Course. There's a distinct Korean atmosphere here, especially now that the champions-only event is sponsored by the Seoul Broadcasting System.
Talk about timing and a nice symmetry with SBS coming on board to sponsor a PGA Tour event for the first time and Yang being the only Korean in the 28-player field after winning twice last year, including the shocking victory over Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship.
Yang thought it was a miracle, the swiftness of SBS' timing, not his stunning victory over Woods at Hazeltine National. He had been wondering if or when a Korean company would ever sponsor a PGA event.
"It's a great honor as a Korean to have one of our companies finally stand up and sponsor this great game and this great tour," Yang through interpreter, Ryan Park. "It's a little piece of honor for me as well because I represent the inaugural SBS Championship as a Korean, the only Korean in the field."
Yang's a one-man gang, though, compared with last February's SBS Open at Turtle Bay, which the Seoul-based television network sponsored before hooking up with the men's tour. Thirty-nine South Koreans played in the LPGA season opener. There were even two Yangs — Amy and Young-A — in that field.
Yang wished K.J. Choi, his fellow Korean and Dallas resident, was here with him. "Too bad, it's disappointing he's not here but we'll meet in Sony (Open) next week," Yang said. "When K.J. won, he inspired a lot of players, not just myself, that Koreans can also play in the PGA Tour."
By beating Choi for the honor of being the first Asian-born to win a major, Yang has added his name to the list of Koreans who can play with the PGA big boys and they don't get any bigger than Woods.
As a result, it was a whirlwind finish to a great 2009 for Yang as he traveled to China, Los Angeles, Dallas, South Korea and now Maui, signing autographs, shaking hands with well-wishers, including South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, and even playing a round of golf with former President George W. Bush.
While here, Yang is doing his best to represent his country, shooting a 3-under-par 70 to be in a four-way tie for 14th. His only bogey came at the 508-yard, par-4 17th when a 5-wood from 230 yards out couldn't carry the ravine.
"I started off quite well (he birdied the first and third holes) but it's a little disappointing because I could have birdied a lot more holes," said Yang, who thought a three-putt for par from 27 feet at the par-5th slowed his momentum for a possible low round. But he bounced back with a birdie at the 663-yard final hole, by two-putting from 84 feet.
He posted the highest score among the four 2009 major winners, who combined to play the opening round in 20-under-par. They were led by U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover, whose 7-under 66 gave him a one-stroke lead over five other players going into today's second round. Masters winner Angel Cabrera, who played with Yang, and British Open champion Stewart Cink posted 68s.
Still, Yang likes his chances, saying the odds are "28-1" because of the limited field. Also, considering that the last seven champions have been international players.
"Hopefully, I would like to have an opportunity to compete and play (in) the final group on the last day," Yang said.
That sure would be must-see TV back in South Korea, especially in Jeju-do where he's from. First-year sponsor SBS couldn't ask for a better start, if that happens.
Bill Kwon can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.