The unlikeliest part of Ruoning Yin’s major victory? Her caddie
Jon Lehman could hardly wipe the smile off his face.
Moments earlier, his boss, Ruoning Yin, sunk a 10-foot birdie putt to become golf’s newest major champion at the KPMG Women’s PGA. While Yin is in scoring finalizing her results, Lehman stands next to her bag in the parking lot, reporters surrounding him.
“She’s pretty special,” Lehman said. “I’m just so excited for her.”
Lehman, 39, speaks at a volume hardly above a whisper. His demeanor is part surfer, part hippie, with flowing locks coming out the back of his hat to complete the look. If you want a calming presence on the bag, Lehman checks all the boxes.
In the high-stress environment of major-championship golf, keeping your emotions in check is absolutely essential. Tournaments are often won not just by who executes the most shots, but who handles the pressure the best.
“Her ball-striking, demeanor — everything is just so far ahead of everybody else,” Lehman said. “She’s pretty special. She’s wise beyond her years.”
The way Lehman speaks about Yin, you’d assume the two have been partnered up for years. He knows her game to a T, and they have a rapport on the course that is apparent to even the most novice eye. In truth, though, the two have only been together for just two tournaments.
One month ago, Lehman was caddying on the Korn Ferry Tour for Noah Goodwin. But after many years schlepping on the PGA Tour’s top development tour, the veteran bagman decided it was time for a change.
“I was looking for something new,” Lehman said. “So I sent a few messages to some buddies that caddie out here telling them I was looking for something. [Yin] had just let go of her old caddie at that time, within 20 minutes of me sending that message. It was crazy. Just perfect timing.”
Lehman and Yin linked up for the first time at the ShopRite Classic, finishing in a tie for 15th, and with the Women’s PGA as the next tournament, they began preparing to tackle Baltusrol. With Yin taking the week before the event off, Lehman headed to New Jersey to scout the course.
“It really helped out,” Lehman said. “Kind of gave me an upper hand on everybody else.”
Yin admitted that she typically reads her own putts while in competition, but early in the week, Lehman mentioned he had quite a feel for Baltusrol’s tricky greens.
“He know the course very well, especially on the greens,” Yin said. “He just know every part of the green. We started I think our first tournament at ShopRite. I just read my greens by myself. This week he just told me he’s really good at reading. I was like, ‘Okay, let’s see.’ Yeah, he’s amazing.”
That green-reading ability was crucial coming down the stretch on Sunday. After not being able to hole many putts through the first 12 holes, Yin finally began to find the bottom of the cup over the last six holes. She went three under on the closing stretch in the final round — including a 10-footer on 18 — to clinch the title.
“I just talked to my caddie, like, maybe left edge,” Yin said. “I just [hit] a very clutch putt.”
As Lehman finished speaking with the reporters assembled around him, he had a quick aside with a caddie walking past. He had just one question: “Am I going to get to keep the flag from the 18th green?” The fellow caddie assured him that they’d see to it that the flag made it into his possession.
If Lehman sticks around on Yin’s bag, he’ll likely have many more flags to retrieve in the future.