Yang isn’t done fighting for Olympics team spot

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Yang isn’t done fighting for Olympics team spot

As golf returns to the Summer Olympic Games for the first time in 112 years, Korean fans are expecting a medal from the nation’s world-class women golfers this August.

But competition to represent Korea at the Games in Rio de Janeiro is fierce, and nobody is feeling that more than Yang Hee-young.

Korea’s Olympic squad will be decided based on world ranking, and if the team was chosen today, Yang would be staying behind.

The four highest-ranking golfers will head to Brazil, and Yang, at world No. 9, is behind Park In-bee (2), Kim Sei-young (5), Ryu So-yeon (6) and Kim Hyo-joo (7).

Not many fans think the 26-year-old golfer, who goes by Amy Yang in the LPGA Tour, will ultimately snag a spot because of the strength younger golfers have been showing.

Kim Hyo-joo was ranked 10th last month, but jumped ahead of Yang by winning the season opener Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic over the weekend.

Yang knows she is undervalued, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t confident. The two-time LPGA Tour winner considers herself a top golfer whose career has yet to peak.

“I’m not in full bloom,” she said in an interview with JoongAng Ilbo. “My performance has been improving every year ever since I started playing golf. I will be in full bloom soon.

Yang has been training in Florida to enhance her short game, and begins her LPGA Tour season with the Coates Golf Championship in Florida starting today (Korean time).

“This year, my goal is to collect three wins, including a major tournament and an Olympic gold medal,” she said.

Yang received a lot of attention as an amateur. In 2006, she won the ANZ Ladies Masters on the Ladies European Tour (LET), becoming the youngest winner ever on the LET at age 16 years, 192 days.

But after turning pro in 2008, it was another five years before she touched a trophy.

Yang’s first pro victory came in 2013 at the KEB Hana Bank Championship.

Last year, she collected her second win at the Honda LPGA Thailand, taking home $1.44 million in prize money, which was the first time her winnings surpassed the $1 million mark.

But Yang finished the year unsatisfied, as a painful loss to Chun in the U.S. Women’s Open had been seared in her memory.

At the major tournament, Yang entered the final round with a three-shot lead, but gave up the title to Chun by a stroke. It was her second runner-up finish since 2012.

“I have matches in which I missed winning the title so closely, and there were some moments I couldn’t take advantage of my opportunities,” she said. “I will give myself 70 points [out of 100] for last year.”

But Yang, who is also a three-time winner in the LET, did manage to write her name in the history books last year.

During the KEB Hana Bank Championship in Incheon in October, she birdied every hole on the back nine in one round, equaling Beth Daniel’s LPGA record for consecutive birdies in 1999. But she’s the first female golfer to get 9-under in a par-36 back nine holes with 27 strokes.

“Any golfer would like to get a score like that,” Yang said. “[After the round] I knew it was record, but I couldn’t believe it myself.”

Back in 2014, Yang skipped the season’s last three events and didn’t touch her clubs for a month because of fatigue. But now, she is back with a passion and has developed a different mindset for training.

“I now try to feel and enjoy playing golf,” she said. “That’s why my performance is getting better.”

When asked about where she is in her golf career, Yang answered that she is now about to take a tee shot on the 10th hole of the 18 holes of her golf career. The two-time KLPGA Tour winner defined her style of golf as comfortable and simple, but said she now wants to add some flavor into her game.

“I think I now know how to play golf and I still have many chances to show my game,” she said. “I want to get the 9-under par record again. My golf game is still growing.”

BY KIM DU-YONG [joo.kyungdon@joongang.co.kr]
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