Strong Korean contingent to compete at PGA Championship
Korea's Yang Yong-eun, Lee Kyoung-hoon, Kim Si-woo, Kim Bio and Kim Joo-hyung join golf legend Tiger Woods at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this week for the 104th PGA Championship.
Im Sung-jae will sit out the PGA major after testing positive for Covid-19 last week.
KPGA golfer Kim Bio earned his place after winning the 41st GS Caltex Maekyung Open, and world No. 72 Kim Joo-hyung earned his seat as one of the world's top 100 golfers. Yang, who competes as Y. E. Yang, tees off this week as one of the past winners alongside John Daly and Shaun Micheel.
The only time a Korean golfer has won at the PGA Championship was in 2009, when Yang won the title, three strokes over Woods, who was world No. 1 at the time. Yang was No. 110 and playing at his first-ever major on the PGA Tour.
Lee, who competes as K.H. Lee, recalls that moment in 2009 when Yang took the No. 1 golfer down in a memorable head-to-head duel and became the first Asian major winner. Lee hopes that he gets the change to win a major title of his own.
“I don’t quite remember what I was doing when Y. E. won the PGA, but what I do remember was him hoisting his golf bag,” said Lee on Tuesday in a pre-tournament interview.
“I hope I can do something that exciting. It showed a lot of pure joy. I don’t know if I have that in me but I guess we’ll find out. Hopefully when I win a major, I can do something exciting as well. He’s definitely opened the door and paved the way for us younger generation Koreans and it definitely gives me confidence in knowing Y. E. has won the PGA Championship. And then, we had Hideki winning the Masters last year and it’s helpful for me moving forward.”
Lee enters the major tournament a week after defending his 2021 title at the AT&T Byron Nelson for his second-ever PGA TOUR victory.
Lee on Sunday became the AT&T Byron Nelson’s first repeat winner since 1980, when Tom Watson defended his title. Lee now joins golf legends Watson, Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus as only the fourth golfer ever to successfully defend an AT&T Byron Nelson title.
Lee was able to shoot seven birdies and one eagle to make up for a four-shot deficit in the final round and clinch his second-ever trophy. His overall score of 26-under, 262, was one stroke lower than last year’s winning score. Lee will be hoping to carry that form into the second major of the year.
“It’s always exciting to play in a major,” said Lee.
“Second time winning, I feel I can handle my emotions better. I feel everything is in good shape. My coach, Chris [Mayson] has helped get my game back on track and my putting was about as good as it’s ever felt. I’m very excited, I feel like I’m up to the challenge this time.”
Last year’s edition of the PGA Championship was the first time Lee had competed at the event, but he missed the cut. This seemed largely due to fatique following a long week at the AT&T Byron Nelson where Lee had to overcome tough competition, heavy rain and even lightning in the final round to win the tournament.
Southern Hills this week poses just as much challenge. With more and more golfers hitting longer distances, Southern Hills underwent a makeover in 2019, with trees removed, the edges rolled down on the greens and the bunkers redone to become hazards.
Overall, the golf course is longer now, as it will play as a par 70 measuring at over 7,500 yards. With the beefed up course, hazards and bunkers, golfers will need to carefully plan how they want to lay up their shots.
“The fact that we don’t have to travel that far, just going up the road to Tulsa, I feel like it is going to help me,” Lee said.
“I got to play nine holes today, and it’s a great golf course and just suited for a major championship. You have to drive it well especially with the Bermuda rough and a lot of greens are slanted a certain way. You definitely want to keep it below the hole and you don’t want to be over the green. With the wind possibly kicking up to 30mph this week, you’re just going to miss greens. Having good touch around the greens will be key. You just need to drive it on to the fairway and missing it in the right spots are going to be key to playing well this week.”
For golf legend Woods, it has been 15 years since he won the 2007 PGA Championship, his 13th major title.
Woods returned to the Tour for the first time in 14 months at the first major of the 2022 season this May, the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. He last competed at the Masters Open in November, 2020. A lot has happened since then.
Woods, a five-time Masters champion and 82-time PGA champion, missed the 2021 Masters after breaking his right leg in multiple places in a potentially career-ending car crash on Feb. 23, 2021. At his first tournament in 14 months, Woods hit a 13 over par, 301 and finished in 47th place.
Despite all adversities, Woods will be looking to claim his 83rd PGA Tour title and 16th major championship title on Thursday.
“I feel like I can, definitely. I just have to go out there and do it. I have to do my work,” Woods said on Tuesday in a pre-tournament interview.
“[My body] is better than the last time I played a tournament, which is good. We've been working hard and I have days where it's tough and other days where we can push through it. But we keep working at it.”
BY YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]