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August 16, 2009

Yong-Eun Yang


KELLY ELBIN: Y.E. Yang, ladies and gentlemen, the 91st PGA champion. He made history becoming the first player from Asia to win a men's major golf championship, also the first to defeat Tiger Woods when Tiger held the lead or shared the lead in 15 tries going into the final round of a major championship.
YE will be joined by Ryan Park who is his agent who will serve as his interpreter. First of all, YE, congratulations. What does it mean to win the PGA Championship? It must be a tremendous thrill.
Y.E. YANG: You never know in life. This might be my last win as a golfer, but it sure is a great day.
It's going to be a big foundation for me to continue playing at the top level, which is the PGA TOUR, and golf in America. And it just means the world right now. It hasn't really sunken in, but I do know the significance of it.
KELLY ELBIN: Shot 70 today, finished at 8-under par, to win by three strokes.

Q. There you are locked in a battle with the greatest player of our generation, coming down the stretch, he's standing no more than 10 feet away from you on the biggest shots of your life. Were you intimidated? And if so, how did you overcome that?
Y.E. YANG: I've seen through highlights while playing in the same tournaments that Tiger makes some miraculous shots and miraculous putts. I've seen it throughout his career, and I've admired him and respected him.
So on the 18th green, when he was making that chip shot, I was -- honestly, I was sort of praying it wouldn't go in. (Laughter) So was I intimidated, yeah, I guess I was a bit.

Q. On 16 and 18 you took very bold approach shots to both of those pins. Was that an indication that you were confident in what you were doing, or did you hit it where you meant to?
Y.E. YANG: On the 16th, with the wind blowing from right to left, I was actually aiming a bit right so that in the end the approach will actually land somewhat about six to eight yards to the left of the pin. Actually, it didn't work as well as I planned it. But I was glad that it still stayed on the green.
On the 18th, I actually aimed it that way. I thought that if it didn't make a huge hook, if I aimed truly and it landed where I was going to hit it, then I had a good chance to win and seal the deal.

Q. You mentioned that you understand the significance of this. What kind of impact do you think that this will have for golfing and golfers in Korea and all over Asia?
Y.E. YANG: If you look back with Asian golf, I think it's back in '96 with the women's golf where Se Ri Pak won the U.S. Open, that really created a huge boom in Korea golf-wise where everybody started picking up clubs instead of tennis racquets and baseball bats, and with KJ Choi winning his first tournament in the oh-so-tough PGA tour, that also increased the popularity of golf.
I hope this win would be as -- if not as significant, something quite parallel to an impact both to golf in Korea as well as golf in Asia so that all the young golfers, Korean and Asian, would probably build their dreams and expand their horizons a bit with this win.
KELLY ELBIN: For the record, this is the first time since 1995 that a PGA champion two straight years has been an international player.

Q. Can you tell us what went through your mind when the chip went in on 14 -- I believe it was 14 -- to put you one up on Tiger Woods?
Y.E. YANG: Beforehand, Tiger made a very nice bunker shot. He came out of a sand trap, probably came close enough for myself to think that Tiger was going to birdie it.
So I chipped it in with the thought that at least I would have to make this one a birdie chance. I tried to chip it, just get it as close as possible, but somehow, fortunately, actually it went in.

Q. Earlier this year at the Honda Classic coming down the stretch you looked a little bit shaky, but today you looked a little more calm and composed. What was the difference?
Y.E. YANG: I've sort of visualized this quite a few times playing against the best player, if not one of the best players in the history of golf, playing with him in the final round in a major championship, always sort of dreamed about this. I've seen throughout Tiger's career that a lot of players have folded probably on the last day when playing with him.
So when I was at home or probably on tournament probably watching Tiger in the clubhouse, I'd usually try to visualize and try to bring up a mock strategy on how to win, if I ever played against Tiger.
But when the chance came, I sort of thought that, hey, I could always play a good round of golf and Tiger could always -- Tiger's good, but he could always have a bad day. And I guess today was one of those days.

Q. I apologize if it's unfair to ask you to do this, but if you speak any English at all, could you say what the first thought in your mind was when the putt dropped at 18?
Y.E. YANG: I think only Tiger chipping, miss the chipping and thinking, "Just please." (Laughter) (Applause).
KELLY ELBIN: I think you guys got that, right? (Laughter)
Q. First, I just wanted to ask you, that first putt on the 17th, whether you were feeling a bit -- a little bit of nerves there when you left that putt so short?
Y.E. YANG: I thought that Tiger was going to actually at least par that hole. And when he didn't, it sort of actually gave me a bit more confidence. Maybe a bit too much confidence, because I gazed, I looked at the lie, I tried to calculate the amount of strength that I put into my putter and just came up short.
But it wasn't really nerve-racking as you might have thought it might have been.

Q. I know you took up golf at a later age than most. And I was just wondering what golfers you admired or looked up to when you first started taking up golf?
Y.E. YANG: When I first started golf, Nick Faldo was probably in his prime winning Masters and the British open. So Nick Faldo was one of them. And also Jack Nicklaus, because even at an older age he was playing top-flight golf.
So a combination of admiration towards those two players and also with a lot of videotapes that I've used. I didn't have a coach when I started out. So I usually just watched videotapes and instructional tapes and started golf. So I think that's what really got me going.
KELLY ELBIN: For the record, YE was 19 when he went to a local golf range in Korea on a friend's advice and he's now 37 years old.

Q. You learned late in the evening that you were going to be paired with Tiger last night. What were your first thoughts when something that you thought of or dreamed about since you were 19 was coming true?
Y.E. YANG: Well, at first when I saw the tee time, I was just really happy to be the last group on the final day of a major. For a split second that was the first thought. And then second, my heart nearly pounded and exploded being so nervous, actually. I tried to go to sleep a bit early yesterday, ended up watching a lot of golf TV and a lot of myself on TV. It was really exciting. (Laughter)
And actually I think the most nervous part passed by through night because I woke up about two, three times through my sleep. I didn't really get a good sleep yesterday.

Q. Your caddy, AJ, told us that you've never shown any fear and he knew you wouldn't back down, win or lose today. Where do you get that kind of strength from?
Y.E. YANG: Until I was 19, after I picked up my first golf club, I was like anybody else in the world, just an average Joe. And as I started to pick up golf, I fell in love with it. And ever since I've been probably -- I have the best job in the world doing what I love the best, I love the most.
So it's been great, and I guess the fearlessness comes from the fact that I know I'm doing my dream job. Every day I'm living my dream. And I also have this mentality where I try my best and leave no regrets. If it doesn't work out, then that's that. I leave no regrets. So I guess if I do have courage, that's where it comes from.
KELLY ELBIN: After today he's no longer any average Joe.

Q. If you had to guess, how many medals do you think Korea, men and women, will win in golf in the 2016 Olympics?
Y.E. YANG: Well, there are still a lot of aspiring golfers in Korea, not just the professionals that play in various tours around the world, men and women. In 2016, I think Korea has a very good chance both on the individual as well as the team matches where, I mean, they might not -- we might not win the gold, but I do think Korea has a good chance to win a few medals, silver and bronze, and who knows, I think that Korea has a really good chance at winning gold as well, actually.

Q. You said you didn't sleep very well last night, but you seemed to be very calm today. How nervous were you when you walked onto the first tee with Tiger and during the course of the final round?
Y.E. YANG: Yes, I did have a rough night yesterday, but as soon as I got onto the first tee, I became myself. It's always what I've dreamed about. It was always what I sort of visioned. And though I wasn't that nervous, honestly, because it's a game of golf. It's not like you're in an octagon where you're fighting against Tiger and he's going to bite you or swing at you with his 9-iron. So the worst he can do -- or the worst that I could do was just lose to Tiger and probably go a few ranks down in the final scoreboard.
So as I told you, and as I told you yesterday, I usually go for broke. The odds are against me. Nobody's going to be really disappointed that I lose. So I really had nothing much at stake, and that's how I played it.
KELLY ELBIN: For the record, YE was the 110th ranked player coming in this week. That will change dramatically.

Q. Have you ever seen Tiger putt as poorly as he did today? And will you give him a rematch?
Y.E. YANG: I know Tiger is one of the best golfers in the world throughout the history of golf. I've seen him play a lot, as I told you. The utmost respect for his game. I don't think he had a poor game today, but I'm just glad that he had one of those off days today.
And as far as the question concerning the rematch, never again. (Laughter) I would like to stay as the guy who won over Tiger at the PGA Championship, and that's about it. No redos. (Laughter)
Q. Since 1996 Tiger's never lost a third-round lead. And there have been many, many players, great players who have played with him on Sunday. They always play worse than him. Why did you think you could be different? And secondly, at what point in the round did you believe that you could win? Was there a trigger where you thought, "I can actually win this"?
Y.E. YANG: To answer the latter question, it was on the 14th, after I chipped in and made an eagle, that's when I thought, "Ah, I do have a chance."
The first question, I think that the good players, the great names that you've mentioned, when they tee off with Tiger, they try to -- their competitive juices sort of flow out and they go head to head and try and win.
For me, I don't consider myself as a great golfer. I'm still more of the lower than average PGA tour players. So my goal was today to just hit at least even, not go over par. I think probably that's the different mindset that I had.

Q. Are there any advantages to taking up golf late at 19 like you did, and when did you first break par?
Y.E. YANG: To answer the last question when I broke even, probably about three years after I took up golf, so around 22. That's when I first broke even. And does it have advantages so late? Don't really think so. But for in my case, I can only talk for my case, and my case, I wasn't really trying to become a PGA tour professional; I was trying to probably work as a club pro or just work as an instructor at a local driving range to just make both ends meet.
And I started enjoying it and somebody introduced me that there's the whole concept towards being a semi-pro so I took that test, became a semi-pro and then I found out that there's actually a PGA local professional. So I went through the test, became that, and then after that I knew that there was a tournament professional. And then onwards and onwards. And then I found out there were professional tournaments in Korea and on to Japan and Asia and finally in America.
So my life has been sort of very slow, actually. And I've always tried to take it a step at a time. Didn't really look and envision myself ten years, two decades away.
I do think that my approach might have been of less pressure because nowadays, with the flow of mass media and the Internet, YouTube and all that, a lot of aspiring golfers would look at and watch players in the LPGA and PGA and various other tours and that sort of adds up to the pressure and the psyche of how well you have to do at a young age. For me that was never the case.
KELLY ELBIN: This is YE's 10th professional title worldwide covering four different tours.

Q. For the next 12 months you're going to have a very bright spotlight shining on you. Are you prepared for all the demands that are going to be on your time from the media and from others and for really a life-changing year?
Y.E. YANG: You know, honestly, I'm not prepared, I think. This is the longest press conference that I've ever had (laughter), the most questions I've ever got. So, no, not really. But I guess I have to get used to it, right? (Laughter)

Q. You said that when you chipped in for eagle that's when you thought you had a chance. How much emotion -- how did you have to control your emotions after that shot for the final five holes; and did that one shot -- was that what propelled you for the finish and just kind of the compare and contrast of having all that emotion but also knowing there was still five holes -- four holes to play.
Y.E. YANG: I did let out a bit of emotion with that fist pump. I tried my best Tiger imitation. (Laughter)
Yeah, but I tried to get back to my normal rhythm. I tried to control my emotions as quickly as possible. I knew Tiger was going to make that birdie putt so there was still four really tough and nerve-racking holes left. So I tried to calm myself down as quickly as possible after that I guess fabulous eagle chip.

Q. You said that you're probably not prepared, really, for the spotlight that's going to come. But there will be additional demands as the first player from the Asia Pacific to win a major championship. Do you look forward to that even you're not prepared, and would you expect to remain to be an American-based player?
Y.E. YANG: It's going to be a bit tough. Sure, I know that. It's going to be fun, too. But honestly I've never been in this spot, so I really can't assess it. This is my first time. I'm just going to try to go and improvise.
Would I like to stay in the U.S.? Of course. I love the country. My family's here. I live in Dallas right now. I just moved into a new home. Yeah, I'd like to play as long as possible in the U.S.

Q. Can you just talk us through the shot on 18, the second shot, and what you faced there and it was a shot of about 200 yards with a hybrid club into the wind and when you saw it land, what did you feel and can you just also just talk a little bit about your family background, your parents. I think they were farmers. Just tell us a little bit more about your family circumstances.
Y.E. YANG: Played with a 3-iron rescue and it was about 210 yards, actually. Forward step cut. Not particularly comfortable position. I had a little bit of tree in the way as well. And it could have easily been a flyer, but when it landed, it just felt really good.
I wasn't really thinking about, yes, I won it. But it just felt really good when it landed. It just went as true as I tried to hit it.
And with my background, I grew up -- I was born -- I grew up in an island called Jeju. It's one of the eight provinces in Korea. I'm not from Seoul. And both my parents are alive. My family, I have an older brother and two older sisters. They're all living in Jeju right now as well. My father's been a farmer and my brother's also in the agricultural business.
I'm the only person to live outside of Jeju and actually live outside of Korea within the family, and I guess I'm right now the most successful of the family.

Q. I was wondering, you hit your shot on the green on 18, Tiger puts it in the rough, he hits his chip. Did you say to yourself, with fire in your eyes, "I'm going to make this putt and end this thing right here"? And I'm wondering if you saw the expression on his face, because I've never seen it before in any tournament, that he just was going, "Wow, I can't believe this is happening."
Y.E. YANG: I didn't see the expression on Tiger, fortunately. I did see Tiger's chip roll a bit too far, and I didn't really get fired up and try to make that putt. I was just trying to make it within a foot of the cup. And I guess that really sort of -- I handled myself calmly and that sort of took away all the nervousness that I would have had.

Q. When you went to the driving range for the first time at 19, what were the circumstances? Why did you decide to go, and how did you hit them?
Y.E. YANG: You probably know that -- in the PGA TOUR site they said I was a body builder, but I wasn't actually a body builder; I was an aspiring body builder. My biggest dream was to actually own a gym. That was about it. That's when I was 17 and 18.
I went to the gym a lot. I liked it. But I tore my ACL in my knee and that sort of -- the dream faded. And then one of my friends introduced me to a small driving range in our town where we could eat and sleep there as well.
So I went over there and the driving range was no longer than the tent we are in right now, probably about 60 yards tops, hitting off the mat into nets.
And the first grip I ever had was a baseball grip and just whacking it into the net. It just felt fun. That's how it all started.

Q. When you play with Tiger, the crowds are always big, especially in a major, and especially here this week. I want to know if the crowds affected you for good or ill or did you just take it in stride and what kind of support did you feel out there? How did the crowds affect you? You played with Tiger; the crowds are awfully big.
Y.E. YANG: As I told you before, this is the biggest and longest press conference that I've had. That will probably be the biggest, largest group that I played in front of.
I knew beforehand that it was going to be Tiger's crowd. Never had a doubt about that. But they actually started supporting me, and I did hear my name being called out especially in the latter half about the back nine and probably the last four or five holes.
But the gallery, the crowds were great. The only thing was that I've never been used to playing in front of such a huge crowd. So it didn't really affect me that much. Probably that was a good thing.
KELLY ELBIN: Y.E. Yang, the 91st PGA champion.

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