DORAL, Fla. (AP) — The tears of Y.E. Yang carried a powerful message about the strength of American golf.
Golf was just a game until the final hour of the final round, when the son of South Korean vegetable farmers moved closer to his first PGA Tour victory. Two putts and 50 feet away from winning the Honda Classic, he lagged his first putt close to the hole, pumped his fist, then collected himself before tapping in for par.
Yang hugged everyone he could find, then ran along the green to slap hands with the gallery. The celebration turned poignant when Yang embraced his agent, Michael Yim, and wept with joy.
“The biggest win of my career,” he said. “It definitely takes over the HSBC Champions win in 2006.”
That was no ordinary win Yang was talking about, either. That was a two-shot victory in Shanghai over Tiger Woods, the first time in four months that someone had beaten Woods in stroke play.
What made his one-shot victory over John Rollins in the Honda Classic more meaningful was where it took place.
“Yang wanted this win on the PGA Tour very badly,” Yim said Monday on his way to Doral. “He told me, ‘You have to win here to prove you’re one of the top players in the world.”‘
That’s worth remembering as the discussion of global domination in golf warms up this week in Miami.
The United States is no longer the majority in the World Golf Championships, at least not compared with the rest of the world.
There were a record-low 17 Americans at the Accenture Match Play Championship, slightly more than one-fourth of the 64-man field. That pales compared with the 40 Americans at Match Play when it began in 1999.
Two weeks later, there are 27 players in the 80-man field at Doral.
U.S. occupation of the world ranking – a major criteria to get into these WGC events – isn’t what it used to be.
When the world ranking began in 1986, there were 31 Americans among the top 50. Now there are only 14, while Europe has the most of any continent with 17 players.
But does that signal a shift in power?
Maybe the reason there are fewer Americans in the top 50 is because so few Americans play outside the PGA Tour.
“The PGA Tour – by far – is the best tour in the world,” Anthony Kim said Tuesday. “Everyone knows that. The world ranking is skewed toward Europe and Asia. No disrespect to those tours, but the 70th and 80th guys on our tour are really good. If they would go overseas more, they would have more success than some of the guys ranked ahead of them.”
Few would argue that the PGA Tour has the strongest and deepest fields.
It is rewarded by receiving more ranking points than Europe over the course of the year, and far more than the South African, Japan, Asian and Australasian tours. But points become a pittance the lower the finish, and some events don’t award anything outside the top 40.
So consider the following players:
– Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand has finished in the top 40 about 74 percent of the time over the last two years. Marksaeng, who primarily plays in Asia, is No. 55 in the world ranking.
– D.J. Trahan plays exclusively on the PGA Tour and is in the top 40 only 48 percent of the time. Trahan won the Bob Hope Classic last year, tied for fourth in the U.S. Open and had two top 10s this year. He is ranked No. 65 and did not qualify for Match Play.
– Soren Hansen of Denmark is No. 59 in the world. He has finished in the top 40 two-thirds of the time over the last two years, but the breakdown is revealing – 17 percent of the time in his 12 PGA Tour-sanctioned events, 81 percent of the time around the world.
Some people still can’t figure out how Brendan Jones could get the No. 64 seed at Match Play. Jones couldn’t keep his card on the PGA Tour, and he hasn’t won in the last year while playing almost entirely in Japan. Then again, he has finished in the top 40 in nine out of 10 tournaments that he plays.
No one will ever be happy with the world ranking because it can’t possibly satisfy everyone. Its goal is to measure performance over two years across six tours, awarding higher points to the tournaments that have the highest-ranked players. Comparing tours each week is almost as impossible as comparing generations. For the most part, the world ranking does a good job.
The balance of power in golf has not shifted as much as it has dispersed.
True, there are only 27 Americans at Doral. But to keep score as is done in the Olympics, the Americans outnumber players from the next three countries combined behind them – South Africa (10), England (8) and Australia (6).
There can be arguments about any player in the world ranking, except at the top.
Gareth Mabyin of Northern Ireland is at No. 90 in the world. He had one victory last year on Europe’s Challenge Tour, and lost in a playoff in the South African Open. Three spots behind him is Brian Gay, who finished 31st on the PGA Tour money list.
It can be maddening.
But remember this: The goal of just about every player is to win on the PGA Tour, where the Americans now share the stage with top players from every corner of the globe.
And remember the tears of Yang when he won for the first time in America by outlasting Rollins.
He didn’t show that much emotion when he beat Woods.