By Ryan Ballengee
Down goes Frazier. 18-1. The '69 New York Mets. The miracle on ice at Lake Placid. Hell freezing at Hazeltine.
This is not Ed Fiori at the Quad Cities. Rocco at Torrey certainly falls short. Not even Rich Beem, on the same course seven years prior, can touch the significance of this PGA Championship.
YE Yang joined the pantheon of all-time great sporting upsets on Sunday by managing to shoot 70 in the final round of the PGA Championship to best Tiger Woods by three strokes. He became the first man to unseat Woods when the world number one held a share of the 54 hole lead in a major championship.
With the accomplishment, Yang officially gives Asia a seat at the United Nations of golf champions. Asia was the only continent with more people living on it than penguins that had not produced a major champion. Every other continent had done it already. Even if you discount South African champions as not really ethnic Africans, they count. South America can thank Angel Cabrera for getting them on the board - interestingly enough by also beating Woods at the 2007 US Open at Oakmont. Now, Yang will be a hero for the rest of his life for what he won on Sunday.
Golf is exploding in mainland Asia, finally catching up to the golf bug that Japan caught decades prior. China is reporting that participation in golf is growing by nearly 50 percent per year. Courses are being constructed all over the continent. The Champions Tour is hosting its first tournament in South Korea next year.
By virtue of his win, Yang intensified all of that momentum and enthusiasm for the game by tenfold. Yang will be to Asia what Tiger Woods was to a generation of young people in the United States. He is a champion to emulate. He was the man who stood up to the best in the world, beat him, and smiled at the camera while doing it. It was fun and endearing, while simultaneously courageous and clutch. Yang is a tremendous ambassador and representation of what Asian golf is and can be.
In the week that the International Golf Federation announced that the IOC is recommending golf to be included into the 2016 Olympics, Yang is proof positive of the power of the event. Despite flaws in the proposed Olympic golf tournament format and qualifying criteria, this victory gives credence to the possibilities of the sport in the Olympic games. It no longer takes an imagination to conjure a defeat of this kind of magnitude. It happened on Sunday.
Not only does the Yang victory help perception of golf in the Olympics, but it also helps the perception of Asian professional golf. The Asian Tour has been steadily growing in recent years, but largely due to a symbiotic relationship with the European Tour. Co-sanctioning of events has boosted the profile of Asian Tour events by bringing in higher ranked players with paid appearances to mow down the best that Asia has to offer.
Though the talent level has been growing in Asia with names like Jeev Milkha Singh, Prayad Marksaeng, and Thongchai Jaidee, there had not been a validation of that growth. Yang represents that and confirms that Asian professional golf is a legitimate threat in major championships. They can no longer be ignored or patronized with invites to participate.
The Masters invited Ryo Ishikawa to compete in the tournament this year because of his youth, clear talent, and - most importantly - the potential benefit to their brand if Japan's emerging superstar could pan out at Augusta National. Now, with Yang as a confirmed major victor, that kind of transparent business-based invite is unnecessary. In time, Ishikawa will certainly hoist a major trophy of his own, but until then, golf's major championships have a legitimate and proven champion from Asia.
The elevation of this victory is not intended to diminish what players like Se Ri Pak, Eun Hee Ji, and Ji Yai Shin - among many others - have accomplished in women's golf and on the LPGA Tour. Those victories were and are very significant in fueling the growing enthusiasm for the game in Asia. Now, though, those female champions have a male counterpart. Their counterpart took down the greatest golfer still playing.
And the victory was not a squeaker. It was decisive. A three shot win is a practical blowout in a major championship. Yang was not conservative in his approach. He went for broke, with nothing to lose. He really had nothing to lose. Perhaps, though, it dawned on him somewhere on that back nine how much he could gain for himself and the sport were he to do what was previously considered impossible. Yang even birdied the final hole to serve as an exclamation point of the win.
The exclamation point was not just for this tournament, though. His final putt will be an enduring image in golf history - and an incredible thorn in the side of the career of Tiger Woods.