Organisers today confirmed that Yang, known as The Tiger Killer after his victory over Tiger Woods at the 2009 US PGA Championship, will compete at the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open to be staged at Millbrook Resort and The Hills on 9-12 March 2017.
Yang, who has enjoyed 11 victories as a professional over the last two decades, has amassed more than NZ$15 million in prizemoney around the globe, having played on the PGA Tour, the European Tour, the Japan Golf Tour and the Asian Tour.
His involvement in the 98th New Zealand Open brings his career full circle, after the Korean ventured to this country for several years to hone his skills before turning professional in 1996.
“We are absolutely thrilled to have enticed a player of YE Yang’s calibre to the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open,” said Tournament Director Michael Glading.
“To have a recent Major winner come and play in our event will undoubtedly add another dimension to the tournament.
“Not only is he a remarkable player, he is also renowned as an outstanding person who has told us that he is very keen to play in New Zealand, a country which played such a significant part in his development as a golfer.”
Yang is self-taught, moving to New Zealand as a 21-year-old after working in the construction industry and after completing his military service.
Yang turned professional at 24 in 1996, with his breakthrough coming a decade later with his fourth win on the Japan Golf Tour followed by victory in the Korea Open and the HSBC Champions event, co-sanctioned with the European Tour. He held off Tiger Woods to win by two shots and opened his way on to the European Tour.
From there he made his way on to the PGA Tour in 2008 but was forced to return to qualifying school the following year. That paved the way for a remarkable 2009 year with a breakthrough win at the Honda Classic and then later that same year he secured a brilliant three-shot win in the 91st US PGA Championship. It was the first time that Woods had not won a Major when leading after 54 holes.
“My life in golf definitely changed after the PGA win,” said Yang at the Australian PGA Championships in Queensland. “Last year I had a neck injury that kept me out of the game for three to four months, but now my body is good, the mind is good and I am happy with my game.”
Yang is looking forward to his return to New Zealand, before he heads back to the European Tour for 2017, mixed in with some starts on the PGA Tour.
“It was a long time ago now but I spent a lot of time in New Zealand practicing in Auckland, Christchurch, Taupo and other places. That was for almost four years and that was maybe 20 years ago.
“I’ve never been to Queenstown but I’ve been told by many people that it is very beautiful.”
Also confirmed are two of New Zealand’s leading professionals, Ryan Fox and Michael Hendry, both coming off their best 12 months in the game.
Fox, 29, has gained his full playing card for the European Tour after finishing fourth on the Challenge Tour which included victory in the Northern Ireland Open on his way to European earnings of NZ$284,000.
Hendry has enjoyed a brilliant season on the Japan Golf Tour, currently sitting 11th on the rankings with earnings of NZ$700,000 on the back of six top-10 finishes, including five in a row.
He bypassed the final three events to chase one of the two spots on the ISPS Handa Australasian Order of Merit. He managed to finish second behind 2016 New Zealand Open winner Matthew Griffin and only by just $7,000 as they take on the season-ending Australian PGA this week, with the top two players to gain lucrative starts next year in World Golf Championship events.
Both Fox and Hendry are keen to break the drought of Kiwis winning the New Zealand Open. The last was Mahal Pearce, back in 2003 at Middlemore.
“It’s been a long time and it would be great to have my name on the trophy,” said Fox. “This is a great tournament that I always look forward to playing in.”
Further starters will be named in the coming weeks.
The ISPS Handa New Zealand Open is a NZ$1 million Tier One event on the PGA Tour of Australasia, in partnership with the Japan Golf Tour. The 2017 event will be played in Queenstown at Millbrook Resort and The Hills on 9-12 March.