Golf makes for unlikely partnerships. The winner’s caddie, A.J. Montecinos, is a Chicago native and a Christian who is Italian on his mother’s side, Spanish on his father’s side and played college golf at Jackson State, a historically black college in Mississippi. His Korean is not so good.
Montecinos’s boss last week at the Honda Classic, Y.E. Yang, is a 37-year-old veteran of the South Korean Army who is now a professional golfer. He lives in the California desert with his wife and three young sons. His English is not so good.
At the Honda, played on the par-70 Champions course at the PGA Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., A.J. worked only his sixth event for Y.E.
“Front edgey?” the golfer would ask his caddie whenever he wanted a distance to the front of a green.
The caddie would recite the number and then write it down. A few seconds later — Yang doesn’t fuss around — the ball was somewhere near the hole.
“Nice shot, Mr. Yang,” the caddie would say.
“Thank you, Mr. Bean,” the player would respond. As Yang sees it, his caddie bears a resemblance to the English actor Rowan Atkinson, who’s best known for playing the blundering character Mr. Bean.
Mr. Yang has an easygoing manner, a repeating swing and, as of Sunday, a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. He arrived at the Honda Classic as the 460th-ranked player in the world. Then he played rounds of 68, 65, 70 and 68 on a demanding course with Ernie Els, Sergio García and Rory McIlroy in the field. Dusted them all. As the 54-hole leader he predicted he’d need to shoot two under (or better) in the last round to win, and he did, on the number, and prevailed by a shot over John Rollins.
Yang earned $1 million for his win, a place in this week’s CA Championship at Doral and a spot in the Masters. The Augusta National chairman, Billy Payne, must be happy. He’s eager to use the Masters to promote golf’s growth throughout Asia. K.J. Choi, the only other native South Korean to win on the Tour, is also in the Masters field.
Yang has played in one previous Masters, in 2007, earning an invitation there on the strength of a win in China in 2006, at the HSBC Championship. The salient point about that victory is that he beat Tiger Woods down the stretch. Now, in his home in Indio, Calif., Yang has a drawing of himself with a tiger in his mouth. He’ll get two more chances at the man in the coming weeks.
Yang had a commanding lead for most of Sunday, but over the final four holes it shrank from four to two to one. “Up until the last four holes, I had fun,” Yang said through a translator on Sunday evening. He was wearing a bright-orange shirt with a zipper front, nothing you’d see an American player wear. It’s nice to see and hear something new.
“Those last four holes,” he said, “were longer than my entire golfing career.”