Amy Yang Has Contended Before; Is This The Time She Delivers?
LANCASTER, Pa. --The late Jimmy Demaret, who was as good with a quip as he was with a golf club --and the three-time Masters champion was superb on both counts -- observed that it was fine for a player under pressure to have butterflies, but they needed to be flying in formation.
That was more or less instructor Tony Ziegler's point to Amy Yang when they spoke Thursday evening after she opened with a 67 at the U.S. Women's Open. Yang was concerned about what lay ahead.
"She was worried about how she might feel Friday," Ziegler said in a phone interview. "We talk about this a lot, and I told her that being nervous was normal, that it happens to everybody. The key is not letting nerves be a burden but to use them as fuel."
It turned out to be a high-octane pep talk. Yang, a 25-year-old South Korean who lives in Orlando, Florida, played beautifully and without trepidation in the second round at Lancaster Country Club, using four straight birdies on the back nine to shoot a 4-under 66 and finish 36 holes at 133, the lowest halfway total at a Women's Open since Helen Alfredsson's 132 in 1994.
Yang took a three-stroke lead over Stacy Lewis and Shiho Oyama in her bid for her first major-championship victory and third career LPGA win. She is no stranger to being in U.S. Women's Open contention, having been in the final grouping on Sunday three times in the past five years.
At Oakmont in 2010, Yang closed with 71 and tied for fifth behind winner Paula Creamer. In 2012 at Blackwolf Run, she had 71 and was runner-up to Na Yeon Choi. Last summer at Pinehurst No. 2, she shot 74 alongside winner Michelle Wie and finished fourth.
"A lot," Yang said when asked how much that history will help this weekend. "It's better to have that experience than never have it. It's different out there, and I know what kind of pressure that is like. It will be tough, but I will be patient and work on it."
Pressure is nothing new for Yang, whose family moved to Australia to further her golf career. When she was a 16-year-old amateur Yang won the 2006 ANZ Ladies Masters in her adopted country, becoming the youngest person to win a tournament on the Ladies European Tour.
Yang turned pro later that year at 17, drawing many comparisons to South Korean legend Se Ri Pak, whom she resembles in facial appearance and with her powerful legs. Some took to calling Yang "Little Pak" because of the uncanny similarities. In 2009 Yang also began taking lessons from Pak's longtime coach, Tom Creavy.
The younger Korean became a consistent player -- never finishing worse than 25th on the LPGA money list from 2010 to 2014 -- but hasn't racked up victories like Pak. Before winning earlier this year in Thailand, Yang had only one LPGA victory, in 2013, and was the kind of player who could be hard on herself.
She ended her 2014 season with three events left on the LPGA schedule. "I took about a month off and thought about a lot of things," Yang said in February. "Sometimes you get tired of what you're doing. I think that's what happened to me last year. That's why I decided to finish my season earlier, too. But over the winter while I'm resting, I wanted to play more golf. Finally my mind changed and I wanted to go back there and get in contention if I can."
Yang started working with Ziegler, the 43-year-old son of former PGA Tour player Larry Ziegler, in January. He has helped Yang swing the club with less of a pronounced inside path on the downswing and understand her action so she can fix it herself. "She always drops it inside, but when she starts dropping it too much, golf can become a lot of work," Ziegler said.
Ziegler also has tried to convince Yang to lighten up and not worry about the expectations others might have of her. "She works so hard, and she can get a little stressed out from trying too much," Ziegler said. "Amy plays her best when she is calm, rested and enjoying herself."
That has been a successful equation for two days. If Yang can keep it up for two more, it could be a winning formula. No matter how much a golfer relishes the challenge, regardless of how orderly the butterflies might be, majors don't come easy. Yang already knows that, but in lengthening shadows of the next two afternoons there will be a refresher course to pass or fail.