What Yang's Win Means for Golf and the Olympics

Talk about compelling viewing — Y.E. Yang’s win against Tiger Woods going down the stretch yesterday was one of the most fascinating bits of golf I’ve seen since Woods took on Bob May all those years ago at a previous PGA Championship. Yang’s play was terrific, and though Woods said he was firing as well as he ever has, his putting was poor and his distance control didn’t seem particularly sharp.

Regardless, it was great golf (considering there wasn’t a single Canadian golf writer at the PGA, TV is about as close as we get…), despite the endless series of commercials that appeared after every second shot for the last hour. You’d think the PGA would learn from the Masters and cut back on the commercials in order to heighten the drama of the event. A head-to-head battle with Tiger and a golfer most had never heard of heading into the week? Should have been tons to discuss given the myriad of announcers that were on hand. Instead viewers got television commercials after television commercial.

As for the actual golf and Yang becoming the first Asian to win a major championship, well that was stunning.  Here’s Tiger’s take on the ramifications of the win:

You know, [an Asian winning] was going to happen one day. If anyone would have thought it would have been a Korean player, people probably would have suspected it to be KJ because obviously he’s played well for such a long period of time. YE has won now a couple big events.
He won one here in the States prior to this down in West Palm. He’s getting better. He’s playing better. And it’s a matter of time before an Asian-born player was going to win. We’ve had a lot of great players over the years starting with Jumbo, and Isao (Aoki) has come close. And even Tommy.
But it was just a matter of time.


A matter of time indeed, though I doubt most would have expected it this quickly. CBS Sport’s announcers fell all over themselves to discuss how important Yang’s win was for golf in the rest of the world. Nick Faldo followed up by talking about the explosion of golf in Asia, where he’s been building some (likely not very good) golf courses in the last number of years.

This got me thinking about golf and the Olympics, an announcement that was made last week while I was on holiday. If you haven’t heard, golf has been recommended as a sport for the 2016 Olympic Games in London, England  that have yet to have a location determined. The powers that be in the game see it as necessary to increase the sport’s global popularity. Perhaps they have a point, but I think that debate is overstated, and I think Yang’s win, along with the emergence of a group of young Asian pros like Ryo Ishikawa and the explosion of golf courses in China makes me wonder if this isn’t already growing organically without the aid of some over-hyped games. If you haven’t guessed, I’m not a fan of the Olympics — especially now that it is about steroid-aided professionals competing for million-dollar endorsement deals in what was once the bastion of amateur sport.

What will we get with golf? A still-dominant Tiger Woods trying to pull a Michael Jordan and record a win for posterity and his sponsors? In Canadian terms will we see a 46-year-old Mike Weir tip it up with some young gun? Do we really need this to expand the game’s appeal abroad? Don’t we already have the example of Y.E. Yang or Angel Cabrera to show the world what those from outside the U.S. and mainland Europe can accomplish?

I think Yang’s win is significant because of the way he beat the world’s best golfer, but also because in a game where the pros influence trends downwards to the average player, his success will certainly bring more Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese and the like to the sport. And the game will be better served by that than by some multi-billion dollar showcase in the U.K.

We already have one over-hyped showcase — its called the Ryder Cup. Now if the Ryder Cup was made more inclusive, took over the Presidents Cup for example, then we’d start seeing the game expand. However, I’m not holding my breath.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Fiji is in Asia (Vijay) and Tiger being 1/2 Thai also would warrant mention.

    forget the labels for one sec….the better man won yesterday’s PGA Championship.

    But like Mike Weir’s Master’s win, national pride definitely jumps to the forefront when a visible minority in N.A. wins a tournament.

  • You really aren’t much of an Olympics fan. If you were, you might know that London is 2012, and 2016 has yet to be awarded, although NBC’s chequebook is likely to encourage the IOC to go to Chicago. Yay, another chance to watch the masterpiece that is Medinah!

  • I think the favourite for 2016 may be Rio as it is about time that they went to South America. But Brazil is hosting the 2014 World Cup so two big events that close together may hurt them. Note that Rio has two Stanley Thompson courses so we may see the Olympics played at a Thompson course.

    We will need a Canadian to step up to keep the title – the defending Olympic golf champion has been a Canadian for over 100 years (George S. Lyon, 1904 in St. Louis).

    The face of golf within North America is changing quite a bit as there are lots of Asian-Americans and Asian-Canadians doing well in the game. Examples include Michelle Wie, Kevin Na and Anthony Kim.

    And if you look at the results for junior events you see lots of Asian names as well. It is great to see!

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