Let me take you back to November three years ago. Tour Championship time at East Lake. This is the PGA Tour’s, well, Championship. The 30 leading players at the end of the tournament season gathered at this classic course, into which the PGA Tour, City of Atlanta, Southern Company and Coca-Cola have invested so much time, energy and cash, $7 million in a post-season bonus. All the leaders would be here—all but one.
Tiger Woods said he needed some rest, so he was taking a hiatus. In his absence, Adam Scott won the Championship by three strokes over Jim Furyk. Later the following week a story appeared about a tournament being played in Shanghai, called the HBSC Champions Tournament, a stop on the European Tour. Lo and behold, who was in the field but your tired and your weary Tiger Woods, who had taken flight to China for a rest, at the same time, flipping off the PGA Tour’s prime event. It turned out that from some source, Woods was collecting a $3-million fee to appear in the HBSC.
As it also turned out, Woods wouldn’t win the event in Shanghai – a South Korean listed as Y.E. Yang would, by two strokes. It was a name unfamiliar on this side of the world, but one that stuck in my mind for the simple reason that he had stolen Tiger Woods’ show and collected a sum about one- third of our American hero’s appearance fee. Deep down inside, you knew that Tim Finchem, our PGA Tour commissioner, was stewing, though nothing was ever said, to my knowledge.
Y.E. —which stands for Yong-Eun—meanwhile cast no broad shadow on the game until earlier in the year, back here in the USA. He had qualified for the PGA Tour by finishing 18th in the Q-School. His joyful moment came in the Honda Classic, played on the PGA National course at Palm Beach. He got himself comfortably in the lead and finished in front of such stars as Robert Allenby, Davis Love III, Scott Verplank, Sergio Garcia, and Ernie Els, defending his title. Yang was not content to take his million-dollar purse and peel off to vacation. He went on to the next event, didn’t make the cut, but stayed at his game.
When he put the crown on his head at the PGA Championship in Hazeltine, it wasn’t just that he had won a major event, but that he had once again beaten his victim at Shanghai. Woods went into the final round apparently expecting to win playing the conservative game. Instead, Yang was in a charging mode, and when he sank the winning putt on the 18th green, Woods could only look and wonder, “is this the same guy I saw in Shanghai?”
It had to be a crusher. As for our American majors, for the first time we have two champions who don’t speak the language, Yang and Angel Cabrera. This game has taken a turn to the Far East and to South America. It could be that tour golf as we have known it in the USA will never be the same again. Think of it.