Korean Yong-Eun Yang Leading 2009 Honda Classic after Two Rounds

Y.E. Yang at the 2009 Honda Classic. Photo Credit: WorldGolf.com

Y.E. Yang at the 2009 Honda Classic. Photo Credit: WorldGolf.com

Y.E. Yang shot a five under par 65 on the Champion course at PGA National to take the lead at the midpoint of the 2009 Honda Classic. Along with Thursday’s 68 he is at 133 and seven strokes under par.

One shot behind Yang is Robert Allenby, the first round leader who shot 68 after opening with a 66, outdoor adventure sportsman turned professional golfer Will MacKenzie with a pair of 67s, and Jeff Overton, a gutsy 25-year-old upstart who also played to a pair of 67s over the first two days of the 10th tournament of the 2009 edition of the PGA Tour.

Yang dared to think about what it would be like if he held the same position at the conclusion of play on Sunday afternoon.

“It would be a dream come true,” he said.

He continues to develop his game and elevate himself on the world golf scene. In the beginning, all he wanted to be was a golf teaching professional.

“But as I got more deeper into golf, I started getting better. That naturally led me to taking membership on the Korean Tour, and as I improved on the Korean Tour, I moved on to the Japan Tour and started winning in Korea and I won on the Asian Tour and I started winning on the Japan Tour and then I won on the European Tour.”

Now he has a chance to win on the PGA TOUR.

Yang is best known for beating the best golfer in the world, Tiger Woods, at the HSBC Champions in Nov. 2006 at the Sheshan International GC in Shanghai, China to earn the crown “champion of champions.”

The HSBC Champions event is the first tournament on the European Tour schedule. Sergio Garcia, World No. 2 got off to a fast start in the race for Dubai by winning the same championship four months ago. The 2009 European Tour concludes with the $10 million Dubai World Championship in November.

The 37-year-old golfer, who earned his tour card by finishing tied for 18th at Q-School, is frank in his explanation as to why Korean men have not done as well on the PGA Tour as Korean women have on the LPGA.

“I would just summarize in three key aspects. In my opinion, I think, first of all, Korean men have to serve military for two years. So when you’re in your 20s at the prime of your golfing career, not to be able to—to be taken away to military and not playing golf for two years, I think it takes you out of the routine, the feel that you had about the game out.  And then when you come back after your military service and try to pick it up again, it takes a while to do that. Definitely that’s the biggest issue.”

“Secondly, when you’re playing—there’s a lot of driving ranges in Korea, but when you’re playing golf tournaments, some of the courses don’t even have driving ranges. So you’re finding before you go out to the golf course to play your round, people have to stop by an outdoor range somewhere else and then drive to the golf course. So that it’s not the ideal environment to play competitive golf. Even a lot of touring pros still practice on artificial mattresses.”

“I think, lastly, I don’t think there’s as much of a physical or talent differentiation on the women’s tour as there is on the men’s tour. I think on the women’s tour, they have realized the successes of Se Ri Pak, and they believe that if someone like her can be as successful, who is physically about the same size as me, then they are motivated. That’s why you’ve seen a lot of the women players come over to the USA and challenge on the LPGA Tour.”

“On the men’s tour, I think the Korean men know that the competition is a lot—the depth of the players is a lot deeper. The physical aspect, I think they just get too scared and they don’t even give themselves a chance to even come and try the Q-School. So, even before the challenge starts, you find the young men just giving up. So, I think once they overcome that, once they realize that they can compete out here, then it will change.”

Change is already coming in Noh Seung-yul, a 17-year-old rising star from South Korea. He won the China Classic as a rookie on the Asian Tour last year and fired a 10-under 62 in the first round of the Malaysian Open earlier this year.

Rory McIlroy, a 19-year-old Irish toddler himself, referred to this young Korean phenomenon as possibly joining himself and 19-year-old Japanese-American Tadd Fujikawa as the next new era of golfers.

“It’s good for worldwide golf that you have so many players from so many different countries becoming so much better,” McIlroy said.

Seasoned veteran Robert Allenby played well in the second round, knowing consistency could lead to his first PGA Tour title in eight years.

“So I just played smart golf. I knew I didn’t have to be aggressive, and I know that if I shoot under par every day, it’s going to be pretty close at the end of the week,” Allenby said.

The Aussie chipped in for birdie on No. 16 and is starting to feel very confident about his game and chance of success this week.

“It’s just a matter of believing in yourself and having the confidence to just stand up there and hit the shots, one after the other, under the gun,” he said.

Is it fun or stressful for Allenby to be in this position?

“It’s just a matter of just staying patient and just enjoying what I do. Right now, that’s what I’m doing. I enjoy what I’m doing.”

Allenby, playing for only the third time this year, was in a horrific car accident in 1996, which broke his sternum and smashed up his whole face. With his mother’s recent passing, these life experiences are putting things into the proper perspective for him; he is focusing on consistency, longevity, and future successes.

“I still consider myself young. I’m only 37. But I see myself being able to play the same golf when I’m 54 years of age, because I actually feel like I’m in great shape. I feel like I’m stronger now than I was when I was in my 20s.”

Jeff Overton, a 25-year-old who overcame appendicitis last fall to secure his tour card, is thinking about his chances of winning his first tournament and how difficult it will be to do that.

“Tiger has raised the bar. It’s unbelievable how good these guys are, it really is. It’s unbelievable how many players have not won yet, but only one guy wins each week. You only have 35, 40 weeks, whatever it is, and you get Tiger winning half of them; there’s not a lot of room for other players,” said Overton.

Will MacKenzie, a 34-year-old two-time winner on tour likes to copy other people’s swings, like Ted Purdy and Steve Elkington. He even invented one of his own called the Wille-Mac swing, but knows enough not to copy Tiger’s swing.

“I watch Tiger swing and I go ‘I’m going to start trying to swing like Tiger.’ You can’t swing like Tiger. He’s Tiger,” MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie has held various jobs such as dish dog, cook, kayak guide, ski patrol, wilderness EMT, roofer, Taco Bell, and security guard before turning pro in 2000. As an adventure sportsman, he fancied rock climbing, kayaking, and heliboarding, and even lived out of his van for five years along the way to settling down with a wife and son.

”Everybody can’t be a heliboarder forever, or a Class V kayaker forever. You can, but you can’t be a professional golfer at the same time. It is tough.”

Eight other golfers are within four strokes of the lead: tour rookie David Mathias, birthday boy Ben Crane (celebrated 33rd birthday on Friday), Greg Chalmers, who shot the tournament best 64 on Friday, Czech Alex Cejka, 2008 Q-School champion Harrison Frazar, John Rollins, who finished second alone at Riviera, another shoemaker’s course, rookie Jeff Klauk of TPC Sawgrass pedigree, and Aussie James Nitties.

PGA National is a tough golf course. Cut day is over, and now Saturday is moving day, so let’s see what happens when the 79 golfers who survived the cut at plus-three put a peg in the ground in the third round of the Honda Classic.