Tiger still the inspiration despite Yang’s major success
Yang Yong-eun’s shock win at the PGA Championship ended an embarrassing drought in major championships for the male of the species in staunchly patriarchal South Korea, where men are men and the women — well, the women play golf.
Since Pak Se-ri’s trailblazing triumphs at the US Women’s Open and LPGA Championship in 1998, South Korean women piled up nine more major titles. Before Yang’s victory on Sunday, Korean men had never come close, KJ Choi giving false hope at the 2004 Masters before finishing third.
But while Pak’s wins sparked a South Korean invasion of the LPGA Tour, don’t expect Yang’s success to open the floodgates to hordes of young Korean guns determined to redress the balance in the battle of the sexes.
Nor will it inspire a generation of young Asians to take up the game, despite what some say in the media.
Harsh though it may sound, Yang’s victory will prove about as inspirational as Lucas Glover’s earlier this year in the US Open.
“Lucas Who?” Exactly.
Anyone who takes up golf these days, or who pushes their child into golf, does so because of Tiger Woods — not because the 110th ranked player in the world beat him in one tournament.
South Korea is chock full of promising young male golfers, cracking balls on the driving range morning, noon and night in the hope of hitting the big time. It’s unlikely any of them will be tearing down their Tiger posters this week and begging their parents to buy them the same shoes Yang Yong-eun wears.
Granted Pak Se-ri inspired a whole generation of Korean women to take up the game after becoming a national hero a decade ago, but in those days fathers took their daughters to the range simply because their sons were out playing ‘real’ sports such as baseball and soccer.
Golf’s popularity among both sexes is now sky high in South Korea, there are no untapped talent pools waiting for inspiration. Nationwide development programmes and an explosion of golf ranges has ensured that basically any kid who wants to play can play. Even screen golf is a $450 million industry there.
Yang deserves nothing but praise for taking Tiger down at the last major of the year and his charitable work on South Korea’s Jeju Island makes him an even more worthy winner.
But 10 years from now don’t expect major champions to credit him as their inspiration — “Tiger Woods” will still be the name on everyone’s lips.
PHOTO: Yang Yong-eun of South Korea poses with the Wanamaker trophy after winning the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota August 16, 2009. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan