Mobbed by friends and competitors, Amy Yang gets first major victory at 2024 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship

SAMMIMISH, Wash. – They gathered around the 18th green, giddy with excitement. It was a who’s who of former No. 1 players and major winners. Some were new to the tour. Others have grown up out here. Most were from South Korea, but not all. LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan was in the middle of the group at Sahalee Country Club, taking pictures and organizing the champagne. At one point, a mortified A Lim Kim ran onto the green to pick up a champagne cork that had popped off prematurely.

When it comes to popular winners, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting a bigger group hug from her peers than Amy Yang. The 34-year-old nearly retired a short time ago but held on to win the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in her 75th major championship start.

“I told (caddie) Jan on the 18th fairway, this has been the longest 18 holes I ever played in my career,” said a relieved Yang. “I was that much stressed and felt pressure out there.”

Yang shivered as she walked into the flash area, her clothes soaked from the bubbly affair. The last time the LPGA has seen an 18th green celebration quite so epic was the last time Yang lifted a trophy at the CME Group Tour Championship in November.

“I think it just speaks to what kind of person she is,” said Lydia Ko, who was joined by the likes of Jin Young Ko, Brooke Henderson, Hyo Joo Kim and Haeran Ryu on the 18th. “I said she’s one of the or the nicest person on tour. And when she says stuff it’s genuine.

“All these people aren’t here just for show. Everybody means it.”

It wasn’t just the players who embraced Yang. More than an hour after the last putt dropped at Sahalee, dozens of kids were outside the press area chanting her name.

Washington’s Sahalee Country Club once again proved to be a punishing test, taking out World No. 1 Nelly Korda in dramatic fashion on Friday with a gut-wrenching 81. Through 54 holes, it looked like Lexi Thompson might script something magical, but retirement suddenly looked awfully good on Sunday after a baffling front-nine 43.

Thompson dug deep though, coming home in 31 to salvage a top-10 finish that gets her an invitation back to the KPMG next year, should she want it.

“It was just a tale of two nines,” said Thompson, who was still fairly upbeat after the round.

“I hit a great shot on 9 and really just tried to stay positive with my caddie, Mark. He was just drilling in the positive comments, even being 8-over through 8, which it’s pretty hard to find the positive. He was trying. God bless him.”

Yang began the final round with a two-stroke lead over JLPGA star Miyu Yamashita and Lauren Hartlage, who has spent more time at Q-School than major championships. Hartlage went 34 holes without a bogey to put herself in contention but fell out of the mix after back-to-back doubles on Nos. 7 and 8.

She ultimately finished in a share of fifth, a career-best LPGA showing, and earned more money in one week ($378,447) than she had in 2 ½ years on tour.

“I learned that even though I’m uncomfortable, I can still play good golf,” said Hartlage, who learned the game from her mom, Kim. “Because it’s hard when you’re out there. There is a lot of stress, a lot of emotions. I’m just proud of the way I handled those all week.”

Yamashita’s share of second with Jin Young Ko and Lilia Vu will likely be enough to earn her a spot in the Paris Olympics alongside two-time U.S. Women’s Open winner Yuka Saso of Japan. The Olympics field will be finalized on Monday.

Vu, who won last week’s Meijer LPGA Classic after being sidelined two months with a back injury, is once again showing the kind of form that won her four titles last season, including a pair of majors.

Ally Ewing’s share of fifth likely won’t be enough to propel her into the top 15 of the Rolex Rankings. She’s projected to come just shy of a spot on the U.S. Olympic team which will include Korda, Vu and Rose Zhang.

Yang made an appearance on Golf Channel’s “Golf Central” show after the victory and her jaw dropped to the floor when the show’s hosts told her she’d qualified for Paris.

It was a monumental day for a woman who first dreamed of playing on the LPGA after watching Se Ri Pak win the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open.

As Yang met with the media after her round, the oversized trophy sat beside her on a pedestal. When LPGA Championship morphed into the KPMG Women’s PGA a decade ago, the trophy stayed the same but the base got bigger, much like the event itself.

“I see Seri’s name right there, 1998,” said Yang, pointing to the LPGA Championship victory that came just before the playoff triumph at Blackwolf Run that inspired a nation.

The first time Jan Meierling walked Sahalee earlier this week, he thought it might be a good track for his boss. The roughly 7,500 trees on property – which are both breathtaking and claustrophobic – make it impossible to daydream. Meierling said Yang can get a little “space-cadet-y” out there and liked that Sahalee forced her to stay focused.

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

There was a point during Sunday’s final round that Yang led by seven. The coronation slowed, however, after a bogey on the 16th was followed by a watery tee shot on the par-3 17th that led to double.

Yang suddenly led by three with one to play.

On the closing par 5, Meierling tried to advise against Yang pulling 3-wood for her second shot, but ultimately didn’t push the subject. He’d run through his mind the various scenarios, including blowing it into the bleachers, and decided it was better to let her run with it.

Yang’s ball sailed through the giant Christmas tree down the lefthand side, and she pitched up and two-putted to close with an even-par 72 and finish at 7 under, three strokes clear of the field.

That’s when it felt like half the LPGA rushed the green, giving her a champagne bath for the ages.

“Amy is the best,” said Lindy Duncan, who for the past four years has played golf in Orlando during the off weeks with Yang and Lydia Ko at Bay Hill, Orange Tree and Lake Nona.

“She’s just the best. Genuine, kind, caring, always a good friend. You ask her questions, and she just wants to help everybody.”

Yang’s short game at Sahalee was next-level elite. She led the field in scrambling, strokes gained tee-to-green and bogeys or worse with seven.

A winner on the LET as a 16-year-old amateur, Yang was a prodigy before many of the players who celebrated had her ever picked up a club. After a rock-climbing injury left her with an elbow injury, she thought her career might come to an early close. Instead, the now six-time LPGA winner is enjoying the biggest moments – and paychecks – of her career. She’s now won $3.56 million for her last two victories, surpassing $15 million in career earnings.

Perhaps most shockingly, she’s the first South Korean to win on tour this season.

Coming down the 18th fairway, Yang turned to Meierling and told him that the next time he hears her say she doesn’t love this game – it’s a lie. For her, the imperfections are what make it so brilliant.

“I thought about this out on the golf course today,” said Yang, “that golf is really just like a fight against myself.”

And this time, she finally won.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek