JOHNS CREEK, Ga. (AP) — South Korea’s Gunn Yang completed his improbable run to the U.S. Amateur title with a 2-and-1 victory over Canada’s Corey Conners on Sunday.
At No. 776, Yang became the lowest-ranked player in the world amateur standings to win the country’s biggest title for non-professional golfers. Along the way, he beat five players inside the top 100, including the 44th-ranked Conners.
The 20-year-old Yang, who lived in Australia for five years and now plays at San Diego State, never trailed in the 36-hole final at Atlanta Athletic Club, pushing his lead to 2 up with four to play by rolling in an 18-foot birdie putt at No. 14. He closed out the match with a tap-in par at No. 17, the 35th hole of the grueling day.
The afternoon round was halted by a rain delay of 1 hour, 37 minutes.
Yang was one of the most unlikely champions in the history of the event, which was first held in 1895. A redshirt sophomore at San Diego State, he has played in just four college events, his career sidetracked by a herniated disk that required laser surgery. Just three weeks ago, he withdrew from the California State Open after playing the first nine holes at 6 over. His coach even took away his scholarship.
Now, at the home club of Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur of them all, Yang hoisted the Havemeyer Trophy.
“I was just trying to build up my confidence,” he said. “I never thought that I could get the U.S. Amateur right away, I mean, one year after the surgery.”
Conners never led in the match, but he had a chance to push it to the 36th hole with a 15-foot birdie attempt at No. 17. It slid by the right side of the cup.
Yang, whose 18-footer to win the match caught the right lip of the cup and spun out, knocked in what was nothing more than a gimme par to wrap up the match. He pumped his fist, hugged his caddie and let out a scream.
Conners’ loss came one week after another Canadian, 16-year-old Brooke Mackenzie Henderson, lost in the final of the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
This was the second straight final featuring two international players. The 22-year-old Conners, who played at Kent State, reached the semifinals last year but failed to become the first Canadian winner of the U.S. Amateur since 1971.
Instead, it was Yang becoming the second South Korean winner of the title, following Byeong-Hun An in 2009.
“I had never heard of him before,” Conners said about Yang. “There’s a lot of good players out there. He obviously had a great week.”
In the morning, Yang jumped ahead right away when Conners bogeyed the first hole. The South Korean stretched his lead with a birdie at the 512-yard second hole but couldn’t pull away, never more than 2 up.
Heading into the midday break, it was Conners who had the momentum. He birdied the par-5 18th even after his drive wound up some 75 yards behind Gunn’s and in a fairway bunker. Conners laid up short of the water and put his third shot about 4 feet away. Gunn reached the green in two but three-putted from 60 feet for par, reducing his lead to 1 up.
Conners tied the match when they returned to the first hole for the afternoon round. Yang drove into the trees, had to punch out, and hit a poor flop shot into a bunker. Conners was all square after making par.
Yang pulled ahead again at the sixth, where the tee box was pushed way up to create a 298-yard par 4. Both players went with driver, Yang sending his ball over the green while Conners came up short in a front bunker. Yang chipped up and made par; Conners failed to get up and down.
At the par-3 seventh, the Canadian found himself in the sand again. The result was the same — another bogey that gave Yang a 2-up advantage.
Conners cut into the lead with a 10-foot birdie at the 10th as ominous clouds rolled over the course, thunder rumbling in the distance. After both players teed off at the 11th, a downpour halted the match and sent fans scurrying for cover.
When play resumed, Yang missed a couple of chances to stretch his lead. He finally converted at No. 14, and protected his advantage with a brilliant up-and-down over a pond at the par-3 15th.