PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - There is a calm and a humility in Y.E Yang that is rare in professional athletes these days, especially one who has accomplished as much as he has. The reining PGA Championship titleholder and the defending champion at this week's Honda Classic, Yang remains simultaneously down to earth and up in the clouds, spinning words with a lyrical spirit that emerges out of few locker rooms.
"This place is very good to me," Yang said Wednesday on a cold and blustery day at PGA National. "It gave me my first victory. It will always have a special place in my heart. Even though it is very chilly outside, it feels very warm to me." Seriously, the short list of athletes who could begin a routine I'm-the-defending-champ-and-I-have-to-do-this-interview press conference that way is short indeed.
Similarly, when Yang spoke about letting last week's Waste Management Phoenix Open get away from him with a water-ball bogey on the drivable par-4 17th hole he sounded like a self-help book guru, not a self-flagellating tour pro.
"I rushed a few shots at the end that cost me dearly, especially on No. 17," Yang said through an interpreter. "I should have calmed myself down and paced myself. I got nervous. Looking back on last week, I think it was good medicine for me. I was trying to win the tournament instead of playing one hole at a time."
Besides his eloquence, there is another oddity about Yang that makes him different than the run-of-the-mill athlete. You can literally see him thinking before he answers a question. At the end of the session with reporters, which went from being a formal interview to a scrum involving the few writers who stayed behind, Yang was asked how his life had changed since winning the PGA Championship.
"The biggest difference is media requests," he said. "I am still the same person, I still live in the same house and I still have the same friends. I just have to answer more questions."
The sly smile that curled Yang's lips as his translator relayed the words were a silent yet eloquent affirmation that the interview was over. "It's time to go, guys," he was saying without saying it. And in the way Yang handled it, few have ended an interview as gracefully.
-- Ron Sirak