JEJU ISLAND, South Korea – Y.E. Yang has won on one of the biggest stages in golf, yet he’s still feeling nervous about a tournament on the island where he grew up on a vegetable farm in South Korea.
Yang became the first Asian man to win one of golf’s majors when he beat Tiger Woods to claim victory at the PGA Championship last August at Hazeltine.
Earlier this month, he was the only reigning major champion to finish in the top 10 at the Masters, and warmed up for this week’s $2.9 million Ballantine’s Championship by winning the China Open last weekend.
Yang grew up on Jeju, where he didn’t take up golf seriously until the age of 19, and will be playing in front of familiar faces in the galleries.
“I’m a bit nervous, since in 2008 I didn’t really perform well in front of my friends and family,” at the Ballantine’s tournament, he said Tuesday. “I guess there’ll be a bit more people (cheering) for me this time, and my main goal is to leave an impression with them … and ultimately put up a good show worthy of a Major winner.”
Yang finished 43rd in the first Ballantine’s event at Jeju in 2008 but has had a meteoric rise in golf’s rankings since then.
“I didn’t have as much experience as I do right now … two years have since passed and I’ve become a better player,” he said. “Hopefully things will be different this year.”
The win in China last week has given Yang some extra confidence.
“I wanted to win a tournament before I came to Jeju and I was able to do so,” Yang told the Asian Tour. “So it’s with a very joyous heart that I return to my hometown.”
The 38-year-old Yang missed his sister’s wedding because of golf commitments, so he was hoping to provide more reason for celebration on his homecoming.
“I think for me and for my family right now, a lot of good things are happening.”
Joining Yang at the Ballantine’s tournament will be three-time PGA Tour winner Anthony Kim, whose parents moved from South Korea to the United States before he was born. Kim is coming off a third-place finish at the Masters at Augusta.
Three-time major winner Ernie Els, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and defending champion Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand are also in the field this week at the Pinx Golf Club.