Amy Yang puts herself in position for breakthrough major win and a spot in the Olympics
SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- I think I’ve seen this movie before. But maybe this time it will have a different ending. Thirteen times, Amy Yang has finished in the top 10 in a major championship. None of those has been a victory.
And here we are with déjà vu all over again. With a 71 in Friday’s second round to back up her opening 67 at CordeValle, Yang reached the midway point of the U.S. Women’s Open at six under par and is once again in the mix going to the weekend of a major.
When she finished Friday afternoon, the only player ahead of her with two rounds under her belt was Sung Hyun Park, a 22-year-old South Korean playing in her first U.S. Women’s Open who shot 66 in the second round to get halfway home at eight under par.
Yang is an explosive player who gets her birdies in bunches and can go very low when she gets into gear. On Friday, she started slowly with bogeys on two of her first three holes but made four birdies in a row beginning on her ninth. But to show her volatility, she closed with two bogeys on the last three holes after getting to eight under par.
“Just like another day,” Yang said, deflecting the question when asked how it felt to be in the hunt again in a U.S. Open. “Just like yesterday and today. Not going to think much, just get out there, do my best every hole. The course is so challenging. I can't be aggressive every hole. So I just let go of the pressure, and then the feeling you want to go aggressive, just let it go and do whatever you can out there.”
Yang’s game is solid from top to bottom. She is No. 13 on tour in driving distance at 267.75 yards; No. 14 in greens in regulation; No. 17 in putts/GIR and No. 6 in scoring at 70.04. Of her last nine U.S. Open rounds, seven have been under par with a stroke average of 69.1.
Yang, 26, was born in Korea but her parents moved to Australia when she was 15 to further her golf career. It worked. As a 16-year-old amateur she won the ANZ Ladies Masters to become, at that time, the youngest winner on the Ladies European Tour.
She turned pro the next year and has won twice on the LPGA and two more times on the LET. Her best finish in a major has been second in the U.S. Women’s Open in both 2012 and last year when she took a three-stroke lead into the final round, shot a respectable 71 but had In Gee Chun sprint past her with a 66.
Yang’s back nine at Lancaster Country Club in that 2015 U.S. Open pretty much sums up her major career. She played the last five holes bogey, bogey, eagle, birdie, bogey to finish one behind Chun. A seventh at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship three weeks ago extended her streak of at least one top 10 in the majors every year since 2009.
Meanwhile, Lydia Ko, who stumbled out of the box with a 73 on Thursday, got back into contention with a 66 to be at five under par. The last three majors for the 19-year-old from New Zealand have been two victories and second in a playoff to Brooke Henderson at the Women’s PGA
“I got some putts rolling,” said Ko, who is the Jordan Spieth of women’s golf when it comes to the putter. “I didn't start off very well, missing the fairway on 1, and then I was struggling down that first hole. But my birdie on 3 kind of turned the round around and making the string of birdies definitely helped,” said Ko, who made four birdies in a row and five in six holes beginning on the third hole to go out in 32.
“Just to know that this is the first time I was under par for the tournament kind of put myself in a positive position,” she said. “I just tried to enjoy it out there.”
Not enjoying it so much were Henderson and the third member of the Glam Threesome with Ko, Lexi Thompson. Both finished in danger of missing the cut at three over par. They headed back to their rooms hoping increasing afternoon wind and a firming up golf course would push the cutline a couple of strokes higher and let them in.
Certain to be headed home early was 2014 U.S. Women’s Open champ Michelle Wie, who was five over par after 36 holes. In 17 starts this year, Wie has missed nine cuts and withdrawn once. Since winning the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open she is 0-for-51.
Even if Yang does not get her first major title here she could still walk away a winner. Right now, she’s clinging to the fourth and final spot on the Korean Olympic team behind Inbee Park, Sei Young Kim and In Gee Chun and ahead of So Yeon Ryu and Bo-mee Lee.
While the Olympics would be nice -- it’s a huge deal in Korea -- Yang would also like to get off the near-miss list at the majors. A win here on Sunday would be a double victory for Yang; her first major and a chance at a gold medal.