17 years and 75 majors in, she’s on the brink of a life-changing win

Amy Yang holds a two-shot lead heading to Sunday at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

Amy Yang holds a two-shot lead heading to Sunday at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

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SAMMAMISH, Wash. — Amy Yang only considered the question for a moment.

Is it fair to say the reason you’re still playing on tour after all this time is to win a major championship?

“Yes,” she said.

Yang didn’t expect to be here last year, when a bizarre rock-climbing accident left her with an elbow injury and an uncertain future. She didn’t expect to be here based on this year’s play, either; she has yet to record a top 20 on the LPGA Tour this season. But then she played her way into a share of the 36-hole lead at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship — and on Saturday, as her competition faltered around her, she seized the lead for herself. Now she leads by two entering the final round at Sahalee Country Club. And she’s very literally living the dream.

“I mean, I grew up watching so many great players in the past, and I saw them winning all the major championships,” Yang said. “I dreamt about playing out here because of them. I work hard for this. It’d mean a lot — but we’ve still got 18 more holes out there and that’s a lot of golf left for a major championship.

“So just going to try to focus on each shot and just be patient.”

Be patient. That’s something Yang has done well for three days; she’s plotted her way around Sahalee’s tight corridors and tough conditions more effectively than anyone else in the field. She cited commitment as the key.

“The most important thing was how committed I was on each shot,” she said. “Whenever or whatever I decided to hit, I tried to not thing about what was going to happen because it’s very tight and playing tough out there.”

Be patient is also something Yang has had to tap into for her entire career. The South Korean is just 34 but she’s played the LPGA Tour since 2008. She’s racked up 21 top-10 finishes in majors. This is her 75th start. But she hasn’t gotten across the line.

Yang’s latest close calls came with a pair of T4 finishes at last year’s majors. She’s finished runner-up twice and has a dozen top-fives. That means she knows she can do it — but she knows how tough it’ll be, too, even with a two-shot lead.

Asked what it was like playing in the final group of the day, Yang admitted it was tough to stay in the moment.

“I try not to think of it, but it does get into my head and I get nervous, really nervous out there, because it’s getting closer to the final round,” she said. As for tomorrow?

“Probably the same, but just going to do the same things and see what’s going to happen.”

Yang battled through a back injury during Friday’s spectacular four-under 68. She received treatment before Saturday’s 71 and still experienced “a little bit of pain and tightness.” It didn’t hold her back from pars on the first seven holes. And after a bogey at No. 8 she stuck her approach to eight feet at No. 9. Yang added a birdie at the par-5 11th and then, after another bogey at No. 16, added the highlight of the day: a 37-foot birdie bomb at the picturesque par-3 17th.

She’ll have a mix of competitors in her rearview. Miyu Yamashita, a regular winner on the Japanese LPGA, sits one spot ahead of Yang in the Rolex Rankings at No. 22 and two shots behind her on the leaderboard.

“I’m not thinking about much of winning. I’m just focusing on like each shot,” she said.

Lauren Hartlage is tied with Yamashita; she’s No. 278 in the world and excited to be this close.

“I’ve never been in this position before and this is something that I dreamed about growing up as a kid, so it’s really awesome to be in this position and just kind of see how it goes and learn from every day, every round,” she said.

Sarah Schmelzel sits one shot further back; she began Saturday as co-leader but struggled with a cold putter and made four bogeys against just two birdies.

And a star-studded contingent sits at three under, headlined by World No. 2 Lilia Vu, former World No. 1 Jin Young Ko and Lexi Thompson, who’s announced her plans to retire but has found something special in her game.

“I am just going to play within myself. That’s all I can do. Yeah, might be my last one; might not,” Thompson said. “Who knows. It’s just day by day. Just going to go out there, embrace the fans, love the walk and see where it goes.”

Conditions are expected to shift on Sunday; cooler temperatures and higher winds promise to make Sahalee a proper final-round test — and crown a worthy winner.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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