Quiet Yang is the Tiger Killer
After quiet entrance, the affable South Korean is heard whacking balls straight and long
He walked into the TaylorMade tentage with little presence, the absence of emotion and his relatively small size reducing him to a mere mortal.
The few claps that accompanied his arrival allowed the 100-odd spectators to notice him, almost lost among the array of TaylorMade clubs and paraphernalia.
But, once the 1.75-metre tall, slim, relatively quiet personality whacked the balls off the turf at Sentosa Golf Club's driving range, the oohs and aahs followed.
While the announcer sang praises of what the golf brand should do, Yang Yong Eun demonstrated what it can do.
With an easy grasp of the TaylorMade M1 driver, he sent balls flying straight into thin air; low trajectory, high trajectory, loft, low loft... but all straight.
Everyone convinced, he switched to the three-wood, stance almost similar and shots just as perfect, straight and long.
So, it seems the affable 44-year-old prefers to let the clubs do more of the talking, as he did in 2009 when he became the first Asian to win a Major (the US PGA Championship).
But the late starter to the game (at 19), who is also known as "YE", has enjoyed every moment of this, whether in Seoul, Seattle or Sydney.
In the past month or so, in the build-up to the SMBC Singapore Open, which tees off tomorrow at the Serapong course, Yang has been mentioned in the same breath as world No. 1 Jordan Spieth as a Major winner.
But, while the 22-year-old American sensation will be having his first taste of the award-winning course only today at the pro-am, Yang has played at Serapong a few times, having been here in 2010, 2011 and 2012 for the Barclays Singapore Open.
"It's a beautiful course, well-laid out and in pristine condition," said Yang in a one-on-one specially-arranged interview for this newspaper, the only print media offered this opportunity.
"The shape is good, and it calls for much thinking," he said, adding that the par-five 18th is his favourite hole.
"I like its setting, water on the left, lots of bunkers, and a huge gallery and seated spectators at hospitality tents, giving one a special feeling."
At the 510-metre hole, Yang prefers to lay-up after the drive to avoid trouble on a sloping green but, when there is a backwind, he is tempted to find the green in two.
But, as he showed in his earlier demonstration, his preference is accuracy and direction more than distance.
One question he is always asked is: "Why do South Korean women golfers perform better than the men on the world stage?"
He replies with a tinge of diplomacy: "Yes, our women have been doing well on the world stage.
"But remember, it is harder for the men to break into the PGA Tour because of the very stiff competition.
"In simple terms, the women may have to compete against 1,000 golfers, but the men may have 10,000 players to play against."
On Spieth, Yang, who reached a career-high 19th ranking in 2010 but has since plummeted to 279th with a string of missed cuts, said: "He's young, only 22, he's phenomenal, but he was lucky with his first win on the PGA Tour.
"That break gave him the confidence to work hard and go on to win two Majors and compile a series of good finishes."
Born in the island province of Jeju, the fourth of eight children, Yang started by picking golf balls part-time and, later, working as a golf instructor at Jeju's Ora Country Club.
He turned pro in 1996 and currently resides in Southlake, Texas, near where fellow South Korean PGA player KJ Choi lives.
Yang breaks into a wide grin, when asked about his nickname "The Tiger Killer".
Then, with a serious face, he answers: "When I won the 2006 HSBC Championship in Shanghai, Tiger, who was on an earlier flight, had finished with a good score. But I came in later and beat him to second place.
"Then at the 2009 PGA Championship, Tiger led by two shots going into the final round. But, playing in the same flight, I did not want to be intimidated by him and focused on my own game, and finally edged him to runner-up spot by three shots."
Then laughing again, he said: "Following those two trends, I was given the nickname."
With Woods now sidelined, is the nickname redundant?
"No," says Yang, "he will be back."
The shape is good, and it calls for much thinking. I like its setting, water on the left, lots of bunkers, and a huge gallery and seated spectators at hospitality tents, giving one a special feeling.
— South Korea’s YE Yang, on Sentosa’s Serapong course, the venue for the SMBC Singapore Open
Name: Yang Yong Eun
Nickname: The Tiger Killer
Born: 15 Jan 1972, Jeju, South Korea
Nationality: South Korean
Residence: Dallas, Texas, US
Career: Turned pro 1996
Professional wins: 11
Best results in Majors
- US Masters: Tied-8th, 2010
- US Open: Tied-3rd, 2011
- British Open: Tied-16th, 2011
- US PGA C'ship: Winner 2009.
Clubs in bag: M1 driver, 3-wood, hybrids: 2,3,4,5; irons: 6,7,8,9 plus gap wedge, sand wedge, pitching wedge, Titleist putter.