Hideki Matsuyama's victory in the 2021 US Masters represented an impressive qualitative leap for Japanese golf, as he became the first man from that country to win a Grand Slam tournament. However, this was not the first time that an Asian male player had risen to the elite Olympus of major championship winners.
That honour goes to South Korean Yang Yong-Eun (also popularly known as Y.E. Yang), who lifted the 2009 PGA Championship trophy at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska (Minnesota). And he achieved that feat in an appropriately major way, surprisingly beating Tiger Woods, who by that stage of his career had already accumulated 14 Grand Slams.
Yang, 37 years old at the time, defeated Woods by three strokes in a round where the Asian started two strokes behind the Californian and closed with a two-under 70, for a total of 280 (eight-under). Finishing with a 75, Tiger was unable to secure a fifth PGA Championship.
The South Korean, 110th in the world ranking that August week 12 years ago, began the decisive Sunday as a clear candidate to be defeated by the theoretically unbeatable Tiger. Faced with Woods’ thunderous record of victories on the US PGA Tour (no fewer than 70), Yang, who didn’t dedicate himself to golf until he was 19 years old, only had one.
Woods was seeking his first major of the season after missing the cut at the British Open. And he came into the tournament with plenty of desire, as he had not been able to play in the PGA Championship the year before while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery.
And so the dance began… Woods made par on the first three holes before carding a bogey for the second day in a row at the par-three fourth, and then again at the eighth.
Yang took the lead for the first time with an eagle at the par-four 14th, reaching eight-under in total, before Woods responded by securing a birdie to remain one shot behind Yang.
Yang, who would earn $1.35 million for his victory, capped victory with a two-metre birdie putt on the 18th after a long approach that flew over a tree and finished with the ball rolling onto the green.
Yang's final round included one eagle, two birdies and two bogeys, while Woods' round ended with five bogeys and just two birdies.
Two Europeans, Lee Westwood and then-rising star Rory McIlroy, tied for third, five strokes behind Yang and one ahead of that year's US Open winner, Lucas Glover.
"It will be a bit of a crazy party tonight," Yang said. "I knew the odds were against me. I tried to be the least nervous I have ever been and went for broke."
Yang not only became the first Asian male to win a major, but he also improved on the best previous performance by a South Korean. His compatriot K.J. Choi was third in the 2004 Masters.
The victory surpassed previous top performances by Asian men including: Taiwan’s Huan Lu-Liang, second at the 1971 British Open; Isao Aoki of Japan, second at the 1980 US Open; and Chen Tze- Chung, also of Taiwan, second at the 1985 US Open.
Japan’s Hisako "Chako" Higuchi won the 1977 LPGA Championship, becoming the first Asian-born player to win a major championship for either men or women.