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Underdog Gunn Yang wins U.S. Amateur

ATLANTA, Georgia (August 17, 2014) -- Gunn Yang was teetering on the verge of losing his San Diego State golf scholarship for his upcoming sophomore year. The former Torrey Pines High School (San Diego) golfer just hadn't posted the numbers his coach was looking for. He finished near the back of the pack in a major college event and more recently withdrew after nine holes at the California State Open.

Today he is the U.S. Amateur champion, having outlasted Canada's Corey Conners -- the favorite on paper ranked No. 3 in the Golfweek/AmateurGolf.com Amateur Rankings going into the event vs. Yang's underdog-worthy 579th -- by a 2 and 1 margin in the 36 hole final.

Playing at Atlanta Athletic Club's pedigreed Highlands Course, that has hosted multiple USGA events and 2 recent PGA Championships, Yang became the second Korean (Byeong Hun An in 2009 did it first) to capture golf's most prestigious amateur title. The golf wasn't particularly earth shattering on the morning 18, which saw Conners make 7 bogeys and Yang also over par. But Conners birdied all three par 5s, including the 18th which cut a 2-up margin in half and left him 1-down at the lunch break.

After the break, Conners immediately squared the match on the 19th hole of the day with a par as Yang bogeyed. Then, after ties on the next four holes Yang won two in a row and held his lead through the 27th hole.

By then, it was apparent that Yang (who has been criticized for being overly aggressive especially yesterday when it almost cost him a semi-final win) had found his driver swing, as he ripped one down the tight fairway. Bobby Jones might have again said "he plays a game with which I'm unfamiliar" as Yangs ball bounded around the corner to short wedge distance. But Conners (who hit 3-wood off the tee earlier) followed suit, wedged close, and nailed his 10 foot right-to-left birdie putt to win the hole and narrow the deficit to 1-down again.

With Taylor Pendrith, his Kent State golf teammate and fellow Canadian National Team member on the bag to pump him up, if there ever was a point to seize the momentum and start winning some holes this was it.

But after hitting their tee shots on No. 11, rain started getting heavy and play suspended with both players about to hit their second shots. Yang came out from the 45 minute brea and hit his approach into the short-sided bunker and was able to get up and down to keep his lead. A short game that can be counted on under pressure is huge in match play and the 20-year-old who was born in Korea, and spent five years in Australia before moving to San Diego has one.

Yang stuffed his second shot to 10 feet for on the par-5 12th, forcing Conners (who had to lay up) to drain his 20 footer. This was as huge make for Conners, and when Yang's eagle putt missed low and left he had plenty of life heading into the final six.

After trading pars on No. 13, Yang holed a nice putt with lots of right to left break to move to 2-up, after 14. Conners still had 8 feet for par and if there ever was a point where Yang made a statement this was it.

But Yang almost gave it back on the next hole, where his iron off tee on the par 3 veered right and hit a tree, nearly dropping in the pond. Once again, the short game saved him. Yang hit an amazingly deft pitch given the circumstances saving par and moving closer to victory.

Yang is an excitable player, and he really burst into "fired up mode" after he struck his uphill shot to the green on 16. A wide-eyed Yang couldn't contain himself as his Atlanta Athletic Club member and caddie Richard Grice watched with the same eagerness. Shouts of "come on - come on!" could only mean one thing, and when the ball stuck to four feet caddie and player high fived.

On the green, after Conners missed, Yang lipped out his downhill putt to win. But with the honor on the par three 17th, Yang took on the far left flag as Gary Koch, doing his final telecast due to NBC finishing their 20 year run with the USGA, could only wonder why a player 2-up would hit that shot. Conners was more passive-aggressive but equally skilled in his long iron, finishing 10 feet to the right. But he failed to convert, and the U.S. Amateur title belonged to an underdog, Gunn Yang.

He likely won't have to worry about his scholarship this Fall.

-- photo courtesy USGA

ABOUT THE U.S. Amateur

The U.S. Amateur, the oldest USGA championship, was first played in 1895 at Newport Golf Club in Rhode Island. The event, which has no age restriction, is open to those with a Handicap Index of 2.4 or lower. It is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. It is the pre-eminent amateur competition in the world. Applications are typically placed online, starting the third week in April at www.usga.org.

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