KPMG Women's PGA Championship

After the 'longest' 18 holes of her life, Amy Yang is a major champion

June 23, 2024


Jeff Babineau

By Jeff Babineau, PGA of America Pool Reporter

SAMMAMISH, Wash. – Amy Yang had waited her entire life for this moment. You’d best bet she was going to savor it. Close calls, a U.S. Open runner-up years ago, top-5s, missed opportunities ... none of them really mattered anymore. In her 75th career major championship, there was nobody better than Amy Yang at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

Finally, she carried the title she chased for so long, the one that kept her playing into her mid-30s: major champion. First, she was soaked in champagne on the 18th green by more than a dozen players from the LPGA who adore her. That’s a big number. And then, she just tried to soak in the moment, and just what it all meant.

“I always want to win a major and I came close several times,” said Yang, who shot even-par 72 to finish at 7-under 281, winning by three in the season’s third major championship. “You know, at one point I thought will I ever win a major championship before I retire? And I finally did it, and it's just amazing.”

The Korean-born Yang, who will be 35 next month, prevailed at Sahalee Country Club, a difficult, tree-lined major exam, with a performance that was as steady as it was impressive. She had two small glitches at the end of the round that cut into the seven-shot lead that she had built, but by then, it just didn’t matter.

Yang won by three shots over a trio of players: fellow Korean Jin Young Ko (71); Japan’s Miyu Yamashita (73); and American Lilia Vu, who made a late run to get to 71. Two players tied for fifth, four shots behind: Americans Ally Ewing (71) and Lauren Hartlage (74), followed by Japan’s Hinako Shibuno (73) and hard-charging Mao Saigo, who finished five shots back at T-7. Saigo fired 67, with birdies at the last three holes, posting the day’s best round. She did not make a bogey.

Yang began the day leading by two shots, watched her lead get trimmed to one, and stretched the advantage to five by the time her group made the turn. The wind was up, the sky was overcast, and temperatures were cooler than they had been all week, adding to the day’s difficulty. Yang, who held a share of the lead since making birdie on 18 late Friday, said she felt nerves all day long, but she did what she could to control them.

Standing in the 18th fairway Sunday afternoon, Yang turned to her caddie of four years, Jan Meierling, and said, “This is the longest 18 holes of my life.”

But fortunately, well worth her investment in time.

After playing 15 seasons on the LPGA without winning an event in the United States – all four of Yang’s career victories through 2022 were captured elsewhere around the world – Yang, who has a home in Orlando, now has collected two huge titles in the U.S. in seven months. Both came after a left elbow injury caused by rock climbing that took her a good year from which to recover, giving her a new perspective on what she had accomplished, and what work was left to do.

She wondered aloud if the light in her career wasn’t fading to black, even telling her coach, Tony Ziegler, she was concerned her playing days were winding down. Hmmm. Wonder if Yang plays poker, considering since voicing those concerns, she has welcomed her two biggest moments on the LPGA.

First, Yang captured the 2023 CME Group Tour Championship in Naples in November, winning $2 million. Seven months later, it’s the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, clear across the country outside Seattle. Sunday’s victory paid $1.56 million. In fact, with the payday, Yang leaped this all-star lineup of players in LPGA career earnings, vaulting all the way to sixth: Lorena Ochoa; Suzann Pettersen; Stacy Lewis; Minjee Lee; and Lexi Thompson.

Yang also joined a mighty list of players who have made the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship their first major: She joins a club with Mickey Wright, Nancy Lopez, Patty Sheehan, Meg Mallon, Se Ri Pak, Suzann Pettersen, Yani Tseng, Danielle Kang, and Nelly Korda.

Pak, who paved the way for so many Korean players on the LPGA, was the gold standard for Yang. As Yang gave a quick study to the silver KPMG Women's PGA Championship trophy sitting next to her afterward, that’s the name that stuck out to her: 1998, Se Ri Pak.

“Yeah, I’ve always dreamed it,” she said, “and so honored to have it.”

Yang was making birdies early, and few of the players on the board were able to keep up. Hinako Shibuno made a double bogey at the seventh to fall back, and Lauren Hartlage, playing in the final group at a major for the first time, ran into doubles at the seventh and eighth. Thompson, four shots back to start the day, went out in 42, needing a birdie at the par-3 ninth to do that. (She did rebound nicely, shooting 31 on the back.)

Yang got a nice kick to set up a 2-foot birdie at the 1st, chipped in from 70 feet at the 5th (Hartlage matched her from just off the green), and notched another birdie at the difficult par-4 8th, hitting an approach to 6 feet. With a lead in hand, she kept her head down, and was moving in the right direction.

“I kept telling myself, ‘You’ve got to finish these 18 holes,’” Yang said. “You’re not done yet.”

Meierling knew that Sahalee would be a great fit for Yang the first time he saw it. With its slim fairways and tall trees, he knew it would force Yang to focus. When she is focused, she can be a complete and tough-to-beat player. He thought the best shot Yang hit all week was a hybrid into the par-5 11th the set up an easy birdie – her fourth of five – to keep padding the lead.

“This course forces you to visualize shots, commit to those shots, and that’s essentially all she really needs to do,” Meierling said. “She can get a little ‘space-cadety,’ if that’s a word. And this week, she can’t do that. That’s been the biggest thing.

“The more she gets engaged, and the more the situation demands it of her, that’s when she kind of goes into auto-pilot, and then she does what she does best.”

After the round, a nice bonus arrived for Yang. She had started the week ranked 25th, but her ranking will rise enough on Monday to secure a spot on the Republic of Korea’s Olympic golf team that will play in Paris. This was unexpected news, and only added to an already magical day.

“Some days,” she said, “golf feels so easy and feels so fun; other days it feels like I want to retire very soon.”

Just not yet. There’s lots to do, and plenty to celebrate.