YE Yang believes the Ballantine’s Championship will help to develop Korea’s impressive crop of new talent, but the first Asian to win a Major Championship has his sights on keeping the next generation at bay this week and capturing a home victory of his own.
The 40 year old, who famously held off Tiger Woods to win the 2009 US PGA Championship at Hazeltine, missed the cut last year, but that has only strengthened his resolve to return to Blackstone Golf Club, near his home city of Seoul, and become the first Korean to win the Ballantine’s Championship.
“I desperately want to win this tournament, he said. “ I believe that if a Korean player wins or gets good results at this Ballantine's Championship, it will be a great start to the season, and I know that all the Korean players here this week will give it our best to win.
He added: “I have always believed that players need to have a lot of experience, and I believe that the Ballantine's Championship will be the tournament that provides a lot of help to the Korean players. They will have a chance to play in this very large tournament, and also play with some of the finest golf players out there.
“So I'm sure that this will help in building the foundation to move their careers forward. I always welcome the fact that the Ballantine's Championship is held here in Korea.”
One of the young Korean players hoping to perform well in front of the home fans this week is Kyung-tae Kim, the World Number 48.
Kim finished joint tenth last year and is hoping he can improve on that performance and challenge for the title this week.
“We have not had a Korean winner since Ballantine's has hosted the Championship,” he said. “But I believe we have the confidence to win. Of course there is Sang‑moon Bae, but there are also other very young talented players out there.”
World Number 32 Bae, who was runner up to Luke Donald in the Transitions Championship on the US PGA Tour last month, is the highest ranked of the home players in the field and he also has his sights set on a sentimental victory.
He said: “The field is very strong again this year and it would be great to be the first Korean winner of the event. I feel as if I have been playing well this year in some big events, but to win on home soil would be special.
“I was disappointed to miss the cut at Blackstone last year, but I finished in the top 20 in this event in 2008 and the tournament has got bigger and bigger since then. There is a strong Korean challenge this year and hopefully I will be part of that.”
The Korean contingent will face a strong international challenge which includes reigning Open Champion Darren Clarke, World Number 12 Adam Scott, last year’s runner up Miguel Angel Jiménez and Ryder Cup star Ian Poulter, who has an added incentive this week with his clothing line also the focus of attention.
“IJP Design has joined up with the Ballantine's Championship to be an Official Sponsor and the Official Apparel Partner for this Championship,” said Poulter. “For me it's a big move to be able to do that and it is something that we have been working hard to do.
“I hopefully can showcase that this week, play very nice, and everybody can enjoy the week.”
Poulter is aware of the strength of the Korean challenge having lost to Bae in the WGC –Accenture Match Play Championship in February, but the 36 year old Englishman feels he is in good form himself following a career-best seventh in the Masters Tournament and a closing 66 in last week’s Volvo China Open.
“I would like to take the good form on to the golf course and be able to have a chance to win this tournament,” he said. “Ballantine's have done a great job with the tournament and I'm very happy to be here.”
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