In runaway Women’s PGA, the champagne shower told the story

Amy Yang earned an enthusiastic celebration at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

Amy Yang earned an enthusiastic celebration at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

Getty Images

SAMMAMISH, Wash. — Golf can be a lonely game. Pro golfers can be a solitary bunch. But on Sunday afternoon, as the final tee time of the day made its final walk of the week up Sahalee Country Club‘s epic finishing hole, more than a dozen LPGA players gathered behind the green in a space between grandstands, whispering and laughing as they passed around bottles of water and prosecco. Runner-up Jin Young Ko was among them; so was former World No. 1 Lydia Ko, who’d finished more than an hour earlier. Brooke Henderson stood just behind the group; she and Lydia had battled down the stretch eight years ago, the last time this major championship visited this course.

It’s uncommon to see this many players assembled for any 72nd-hole celebration. But it’s also uncommon to have a winner as popular as Amy Yang, who held a three-stroke lead as she proceeded up the last. Her second shot on the par-5 flew left, where it collided with one of Sahalee’s towering pines and actually stayed up in its limbs before eventually, mercifully, falling to safety in the rough beside the green.

And then came a pop.

A Lim Kim had loosened her La Marca a little early; the cork flew onto the back of the 18th green and tumbled onto the fringe. She covered her mouth with her hand, laughing at the blunder, and then dashed around the edge of the green, where she scooped up the cork to applause from the amphitheater crowd.

The celebration was on.

This week marked Yang’s 75th major championship start. The 34-year-old has been an LPGA pro for half her life and has had close calls at majors throughout; she entered the week with 21 top-10s and 12 top-fives. Last year, she added a pair of T4s to her resume. She’d been close enough to know she could win — but also close enough to know how tough it could be. During her tenure on tour, she’s become popular with players and caddies, and so they queued up behind the green because they believed she deserved it and because they wanted it for her, too, as well as her caddie, Jan Meierling.

Throughout Sunday’s finale, doubt lurked at the edge of her mind. She’d admitted earlier in the week that she’d started to wonder whether she’d ever win a major before she retired. And she’d admitted her main motivation for still competing was to get her name on a major championship trophy. But that doubt was gone by the time she found the green in three. A chip and two putts later, the champagne-sprayers stormed the green, one after the next, dousing Yang and Meierling. She resisted for a split-second and then raised her arms overhead, welcoming the moment.

“I finally did it,” she’d say later. “And it’s amazing.”

YANG WASTED NO TIME building on her two-shot lead to begin the day. She was nervous as she played No. 1, she said, but channeled those nerves into a near-perfect approach shot on the par-4, setting up a two-footer for birdie to make the lead three.

It wouldn’t stay that easy. Playing partners Lauren Hartlage and Miyu Yamashita birdied No. 2 and then Yang bogeyed No. 3; suddenly the lead was back to one. Major champions loomed not far behind; Jin Young Ko and Lilia Vu were holding steady within four. A final-round brawl seemed to be in the offing.

Yang’s lead came under further threat at the par-3 5th when Yamashita stuffed her tee shot to 12 feet and she hit a gust and came up well short of the putting surface. But then Yang provided the highlight of the day, hitting a perfect chip that died in the left half of the hole for a birdie two. All week she’d had the best short game in the field; this was a fitting way to emphasize that.

That was as close as her competitors would get; Yamashita doubled the brutal 8th while Hartlage doubled 7 and 8 while Yang fired her approach to seven feet and made the putt for birdie. An hour later, Yang had added birdies at 11 and 13 while her closest competitors had continued to fall prey to Sahalee’s many pitfalls; her lead swelled to seven. The rout was on.

Yang did her best to keep things interesting down the stretch by missing a three-footer for par at No. 16 and by finding the water at No. 17 en route to double bogey. But she’d built such an advantage that not even those could hurt. The winning margin didn’t matter; all that mattered was her new title: major champ.

After the round, Yang was asked how this changes the way she sees her career.

“I thought about this out on the golf course today, that golf is really just like, a fight against myself,” she said. “I think I proved myself that I can compete and I can do this. Yeah, so was a good learning week.”

She was asked what she loves about golf and again gave a poignant answer.

“The imperfection, this game,” she said. “We do the best we can. Some days, golf feels so easy and feels so fun; other days, it feels like I want to retire very soon.”

On Saturday night, when she was asked what a major win would mean, her mind went to those who’d inspired her.

“I mean, I grew up watching so many great players in the past, and I saw them all winning major championships,” she said. “I dreamed about playing out here because of them.”

Amy Yang signed for young fans long after her round.
Amy Yang signed for young fans long after her round. Getty Images

Asked for a specific player who’d inspired her, she cited South Korean legend Seri Pak, whose career included five majors, including three Women’s PGAs.

On Sunday, she was asked how reality measured up to her dreams.

“I’m trying to process that right now,” she said with a pause. And as she paused she glanced to her left at the trophy, and smiled.

“I see Seri’s name right there, 1998,” she said.

Now Yang’s is there, too, a few rows farther down. A few years from now, perhaps there will be another golfer who adds her name who watched Yang’s dominant Sunday at Sahalee. Perhaps a golfer who’d waited behind the green with sparkling wine. Perhaps a young golfer-in-training, part of the group still waiting outside the press tent as Yang finished her remarks. This had been, she said, the best crowd ever.

“It’s been the best fans. It’s been incredible all this week. Everyone was rooting for me. I want to go sign some autographs for them. I’d like to thank them,” she said.

The feeling was mutual.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ 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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