“I hung in there, stayed positive, and waited for the future. This is the best moment of my life.”
Yang Hee-young, 34, a 16-year veteran of the U.S. Women’s Professional Golf (LPGA) Tour, won her fifth career title in four years and nine months in the season finale, earning $2 million ($2.6 billion) in prize money.
Yang, ranked 36th in the world, carded an eagle, five birdies and a bogey for a 6-under 66 and a total of 27-under 261 in the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship ($7 million) at Tiburon GC (par 72-6556) in Naples, Florida, USA, on Tuesday to win by three strokes over day-one leader Nasa Hataoka (JPN) and Korean-American Alison Lee (USA), who battled to the finish at 24-under 264. Yang’s victory in the final event, which was limited to the top 60 players, pushed her to second on the season’s money list ($3.058 million) and into 11th place on the career money list ($13.88 million), the second-highest ranked South Korean player behind Inbee Park ($18.26 million-4th).
Yang, who began playing golf in Australia when her parents emigrated at age 15, made her LPGA Tour debut in 2008 and went on to win the 2013 KEB Hana Bank Championship (Incheon) and the 2015, 2017 and 2019 Honda LPGA Thailand (Thailand) before earning her first victory on the U.S. mainland at a tour championship comparable to a major.
The battle for the title was a match play between Yang and Nasa. After falling behind by one stroke, Yang holed a 75-yard shot eagle on the par-4 13th hole, and after Nasa birdied the 14th (par-5) and bogeyed the 16th (par-3), she birdied the 17th (par-5) to take a one-stroke lead.
Yang struggled for a while last year after suffering a left elbow ligament injury while rock climbing as a hobby. “As the gap between wins became longer, I doubted that I could win again, and I thought that my career might end early, especially after the injury,” she said. “I even told my coach that I didn’t think I could do it anymore, but with the help of the team, including the doctors and coaching staff, I overcame it, so I’m even happier.”
With 85 top-10 finishes in 16 seasons, Yang has had her fair share of disappointments, including two runner-up finishes at the U.S. Women’s Open and 21 top-10 finishes in majors. “Failure in major tournaments is a painful memory, but it also serves as an impetus to regain strength,” she said. “Trying to achieve a balance between golf and daily life has been the secret to my long run.” In this tournament, he also said that swinging with a certain balance helped him win.
Yang, who lost her sponsor in recent years due to poor results, played the season with a small smiley face on the front of her hat. “I didn’t want to leave it blank, and I wanted to have fun, so I embroidered the smileys myself,” she says, and her upbeat, positive attitude has paid off.
World No. 1 Lilia Boo (USA), who tied Celine Boutier (FRA) for the most wins on the season with four last week, finished tied for fourth (21-under-par 267) to win Player of the Year and the money list ($3.52 million), while Ataya Thittitjer (USA) was crowned the best stroke average (69.533) and Hae-ran Hae was named Rookie of the Year.
For the Koreans, Ko Jin-young (2 wins), Kim Hyo-joo, Hae-ran Ha, and Yang Hee-young combined for five wins on the season.