Y.E. Yang talks about his new-found celebrity, his father and his heroics at Hazeltine

Y.E. Yang, Golf Magazine Interview, January 2010
Scott A. Miller/US PRESSWIRE
Y.E. Yang not only beat Tiger Woods at Hazeltine, but he also became the first Asian-born player to win a major.

They say you never hear the bullet that kills you. Tiger Woods didn't. When he had the lead after 54 holes at a major, Woods was 14 for 14, the closest thing in sports to a sure thing. Then at the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., Y.E. Yang did what Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Bob May, Rocco Mediate, Phil Mickelson, Colin Montgomerie and Vijay Singh couldn't — wrestle a major title from Woods on Sunday afternoon.

How did an unheralded 37-year-old Korean who barely touched a club until he had finished high school pull off one of golf's greatest upsets? With gutsy shotmaking, clutch putting, and the will to ignore the 300-pound elephant in the red shirt. Says Yang through his interpreter and agent Ryan Park: "I just forgot that I was dealing with Tiger altogether."

You had been playing well heading into the PGA, with a couple of top-10s in the two weeks before. Did you sense that you were ready to win a major?
No, I didn't do anything different before the PGA. Try to finish top 10 — that's my biggest expectation. Finishing top 10 in a major for me would be a great feat in itself. I've played 50 or 60 tournaments in the U.S. and I've only made the top 10 five times, including my two wins. Not until I made the chip for eagle on 14 [on Sunday] did I just vaguely think, I might have a chance.

In retrospect, which was your most important shot of the day?
Definitely the second shot [from 206 yards] at the 18th. My caddie A.J. [Montecinos] and I agreed on the club, and I'd been practicing with my 3-iron rescue club for quite some time. It was a confident swing, and a great result. [Yang hit it to 12 feet.]

Were you aware of Tiger's 14 of 14 record when he had the lead after 54 holes at a major?
Of course I was. Reporters kept reminding me of it.

Your caddie said that you're the mentally toughest player he's ever seen. Where does that toughness come from?
I don't think it's toughness, but a will to block out everything peripheral and just concentrate on my strategy. Thus I become oblivious to any and all pressure, or at least I try to.

Did you employ any special techniques to help offset Tiger's aura?
I just forgot that I was dealing with Tiger altogether, probably until the 18th green, when I acknowledged that Tiger could make a miraculous comeback. I just played my game.

At points during the back nine, and especially on the 15th green, it looked like Tiger was deliberately crowding you. Was he trying to intimidate you?
Maybe, maybe not. I think it would be a better question to ask him rather than me. I really didn't think much about it.

You said that great names play with Tiger and 'their competitive juices flow and they go head-to-head with him and try to win.' Why is that the wrong approach?
I can't say that is a wrong approach, but through experience, I understand that aggressiveness can go a long way, but too much pressure and added expectations can become negative variables. I think sometimes players add unnecessary pressure upon themselves.

You've also said you're a believer in luck. What percentage of winning a major is luck, and do you believe that you can create your own luck?
I can't quantify it, but it must have something to do with good results, right? To put it in a different way, a lot of things were going my way on that particular day. I doubt Tiger would have such a bad day again any time in the near future.

He certainly didn't at the Presidents Cup, where he went 5-0 and beat you 6 and 5 in singles. What was your reaction when you heard you'd be facing off with Woods again?
I was a little bit surprised, since the strategy we had set up at our team meeting was a little different. I thought Ryo [Ishikawa] might be paired with him since he was playing well and due to all the media attention.

What did you and Tiger say to each other on the first tee?
Just the normal pleasantries.

Has he congratulated you in person on your PGA victory?
Not yet.

In your singles match, did you sense that Tiger was exacting some payback?
You'll have to ask him that, though I doubt he will answer. But I guess it was a little sweeter for him, and a bit disappointing for me.

When you watch Tiger dominate like that, do you wonder how you beat him at Hazeltine?
Oh, of course. I think I really was lucky as well as playing well. You don't get to see that version of Tiger that much. It's usually the Presidents Cup Tiger who you see on Tour.

As a young man, you were an aspiring bodybuilder. What about weightlifting appealed to you?
I just started going to the gym, and then I got addicted — I was trying to get that six pack and stuff.

Were you ever as 'cut' as, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger?
Hell no. Arnold was beautiful. I was just getting some definition when injury struck.

What happened?
Tore my knee, had to quit. [During a stint with a Korean construction company, Yang fell down a flight of stairs and ripped his ACL.]

You didn't start playing golf until you were 19. Why?
I didn't know about golf back then [laughs]. Once I found out about golf I wanted to learn more about it. Before 19 I probably touched a few golf balls but that's about it. I didn't know what a golf club would look like and how the game was played.

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