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TRAILBLAZER YANG EYES MASTERS GLORY
Korean superstar Y.E. Yang heads into this week’s Masters Tournament with all the confidence in the world but knows his reputation as Asia’s first Major champion is no guarantee for more silverware.
The Asian Tour honorary member, who triumphed in the US PGA Championship when he defeated Tiger Woods in a memorable head-to-head duel last August, will spearhead the region’s challenge in the year’s first Major at Augusta National Golf Club.
“I want to keep the wins coming but as you know, winning on the PGA Tour or anywhere isn't easy,” said Yang. “Just because you have won a Major doesn't suddenly escalate your talent. It is merely an achievement which is quite precious to me but it doesn't win me any more tournaments or count as multiple wins.
“There is added pressure which I need to brush off and keep my mental game as it was 10 to 15 years ago. I really have to pace myself to meet my own expectations.”
Yang, whose full name is Yang Yong-eun, will make his third appearance at the Masters, with a tied 30th finish on his debut in 2007 being his best outing. The Korean strongman missed the cut last year.
He said joining the exclusive Major club was truly satisfying. “Above anything else, it has brought immense happiness to me and my family. My wife seems to look lovelier than ever and the kids are sweeter and more precious. I am thankful for all that I have in my life.
“It puts everything into perspective. One year, I lost my job (he lost his card on the PGA Tour) and I had to fight back for it at Qualifying School. Now I have long term stability. It has brought a lot of confidence to me not only on the golf course, but off it as well. I was pretty shy and I still am, but I can be more of myself now,” said Yang.
He added there was no secret recipe to success except for hard work and perseverance. Yang also believes the five years spent on the Asian Tour laid the foundation for him to become a world class player.
“I think I have learnt how to handle my nerves, but philosophy wise, it has always been step by step. I always keep it steady and slow, and not try to rush it. If I had tried to vault myself from the Korean PGA to the PGA Tour, I think I would still be playing in Korea,” he said.
“The Asian Tour was different from playing the Korea PGA since the competition was so much better, the traveling was taxing and there were many other variables such as weather changes, playing conditions, food and family. For instance back then, the KPGA winnings were minimal and the competition was only average. But on the Asian Tour, everything was bigger and better. The course conditions were always different and you had to adapt your game to the different playing conditions.
“All these variables enabled and pushed me to become a player with versatile skills and adaptive characteristics. I made many good friends on the Asian Tour. Guys like Charlie Wi and Thongchai Jaidee really pushed me hard,” he added.
Should he stumble upon former Masters champions Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo at Augusta National, he will express his thanks to the legends of the game for their instructional videos which he had watched constantly during his early professional years to hone his game.
“My first coach was Nick Faldo. And then it was Jack Nicklaus. They were easy to afford really! Their instructional videos cost only about two dollars for three days rental. Sometimes I would have them ‘teach’ me for hours till I got blisters,” said Yang.
“I would watch video tapes of Faldo and Nicklaus for hours, and then imitate their swings. Then I would go back in front of the screen and watch them again. The driving range that I worked at had an old Jack Nicklaus teaching VHS tape, and while I didn't understand a word he said, I watched that tape till the tape wore out.”
Yang’s countryman K.J. Choi and reigning Asian Tour number one Thongchai Jaidee are also in the elite field for the Masters this week.