Han hails Yang … but Asian Tour still seeking champion from within

Yang Young-eun’s victory at the US PGA Championship last week, when he defeated Tiger Woods in a head-to-head battle, is being hailed across Asia.

Like any success, parties from all over are scrambling quickly to claim a portion of the credit. The Asian Tour has, naturally, and justifiably, raised its hand.

Yang played on the Asian Tour from 1999 to 2003 and then took his game to Japan, where he won five times.

He continued to make appearances on the Asian Tour and won the Korean Open in 2006 for his first title on the circuit.

It was the same year in which he hit the global headlines when he won the HSBC Champions tournament China. To do so, he had to beat none other than Tiger Woods as well as nine other golfers from the world’s top 20.

He had shown that he had the nerve to win in the face of tremendous pressure. After earning his US PGA Tour card in 2007, Yang waited until March this year for his maiden tour title at the Honda Classic.

Even then, no one would have predicted that it was merely the opening credits for a starring role five months later at the US PGA Championship at Hazeltine.

Kyi Hla Han, a former fellow player with Yang and current Asian Tour executive chairman, was measured and prudent in his remarks following Yang’s triumph. He said in a media release:

“This is a fantastic win not only for Yang but also for golf in Asia. The way he won by defeating Tiger head-to-head was definitely a thrill to watch.

“I played with Yang when he first started his career on the Asian Tour and I’ve known him to be a very talented and hardworking player. This win has once again underlined the growing strength of the game in Asia. With many of our young players showing a lot of promise, I see a great future ahead for Asian golf.”

Han did the right thing by simply acknowledging Asia’s pride at Yang’s win rather than claiming too much credit.

The Asian Tour is currently a stepping stone for golfers. Han’s long-term goal is to make the Tour a viable arena within itself from which champions are directly extracted.

While any Asian major winner is great for the continent, Han prefers that they be current Asian Tour players, not former ones.

Players such as India’s Jeev Milkha Singh and Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee have had reasonable success in Europe and the US since their full-time Asian Tour days.

And, if you talk to most pros in Asia, their ambitions are to one day pursue their goals outside the continent.

Yang’s victory at Hazeltine, without doubt, did much for the reputation of golf in Asia. But for the Asian Tour to truly be recognised as an influential circuit, it needs its current players to step up at majors.

That’s not easy considering the limited invites and qualifying places given to Asian players for the four major tournaments.

However, those are issues to be tackled later on. For the moment, Asia is celebrating Yang – the first ever Asian major champion.

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