Roar of the Asian tiger

Roar of the Asian tiger

YE Yangs victory might change the golfing landscape of South Korea

YE Yang of South Korea sprang a huge surprise defeating world number one Tiger Woods to clinch the US PGA Championship. AFP

And then there were four. A year of major championships made memorable as much for those who lost as for those who won completed the set on Sunday at Hazeltine with YE Yang's stunning victory over Tiger Woods at the US PGA Championship.

It was a wonderful moment for the 37-year-old Korean, a life-changing one, but also a bit of a setback for the Bermuda tourist industry, which has invested millions of dollars in hosting the Grand Slam of Golf, an annual event featuring the winners of the game's crown jewels.

To think they might have had Kenny Perry, Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson and Woods but have instead ended up with Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink and Yang. Tickets will not be scarce; spectators might.

Yet in the grander scheme of golf, the aftermath of Yang's triumph will resonate through the years. Asia now has its first male major champion, which is likely to have a significant impact on golf's growing popularity in that part of the world.

Eleven years after Yang's compatriot Pak Se-ri won the US Women's Open, Korean female players now dominate the women's game. Will the same happen in the men's game? Probably not, at least not to the same extent, but there will undoubtedly be a knock-on effect, according to Sunday's victor.

"What Pak did really created a huge boom in Korea golf-wise. Everybody started picking up clubs instead of tennis rackets 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," Yang said.

"I hope this win would be, 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."

Biggest day

The Asian Tour executive chairman, Kyi Hla Han, certainly thinks it will. "It's a great, great day for Asian golf," said Han. "Probably our biggest day. It's always been our hope that we will see an Asian player win a major, and that day is here.

"It will provide so much inspiration. Our players have never contended that strong in majors. Maybe top 10 but never really contended. And now we've not only got a winner, but someone who beat Tiger Woods. It was as high-pressure as you can get." Han believes that a number of Asian players in their early 20s are more technically sound than their older colleagues on the tour. "These players will peak in their late 20s, and it was always a case of a longer process for them to mature," he said. "But this has raised the bar a lot and Yang's win will provide them with a big mental boost. I see a great future ahead for Asian golf."

If golf's place in the 2016 Olympics is confirmed later in the year, it then becomes possible to envisage a new landscape for the sport; one that is no longer so reliant on the traditional power bases of Europe and the United States.

Already influence is beginning to shift eastwards because of the economic difficulties that have hit the sport's traditional sponsorship base in the US and Europe. Korea and China, and even India, are hardly immune to the chill winds but they are, in every sense, emerging markets – coveted by global multinationals and therefore prime territory for those who have an appealing sporting product to sell.

If the east is where the money is, then that is where those who run golf will have to focus ever increasing amounts of attention and energy. This year the European Tour had 10 Asian events on its schedule. Stand by for even more in the coming years and stand by too for the PGA Tour to stage its own events there in the not too distant future. But if the world of professional golf is destined to undergo a transition in the coming years, some things will not change, at least not for a while yet.

Sunday's climax was of course notable for the manner of Yang's victory – it takes great courage and great talent to hit the kind of shots he did to secure his win, not least his approach shot on the final hole that gave the moment its sheen. It also takes guts to stare down the great Mr Woods.

Fourteen times the World No1 had found himself in the lead going into the final day of a major, and 14 times he had finished the winner. Streaks are made to be broken, of course, but such was Woods' aura it seemed as if this one would never end. Even he seemed shocked, like a man confronted with his own mortality. Still, he recovered quickly enough to be generous about Yang's play ("He hit the ball beautifully … went out there and executed his game plan") and to rail against the suggestion that this defeat was more significant than a bad day at the office. "I played well enough the entire week to win the championship, especially today. But you have to make putts and I didn't do that,'' he said.

Next year golf's caravan returns to Pebble Beach, for the US Open, and St Andrews, which will play host to the Open Championship. Woods has enjoyed great success at both courses and will expect that streak to continue. Given his history, given that nothing inspires him to improve as much as falling short of his own high standards, so should everyone else.

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