NAPLES, Fla. — It was ultimately Republic of Korea native Amy Yang who hoisted the Race to the CME Globe trophy and claimed the $2 million winner’s check on Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship, emerging victorious from a hard-fought battle with Japan’s Nasa Hataoka.
Hataoka and Yang began the day in a tie at 21-under, and Hataoka struck first, making birdie on the par-5 1st hole to move one ahead early. Yang dropped a shot on the third hole, now sitting two back of the lead at 20-under, and Hataoka extended her advantage with a birdie on the par-3 5th hole to get to 23-under and hold a three-shot lead. But Yang delivered a one-two punch of birdies on holes 7 and 8 to move to 22-under, now one behind Hataoka with nine holes to play.
Yang then tied the lead with a birdie on No. 10 to get to 23-under, and Hataoka answered with a birdie of her own on the par-4 11th hole, regaining the lead. The highlight of the final round came just a couple of holes later as Yang dunked her approach shot on the par-4 13th hole from approximately 80 yards to record an eagle 2 and move to 25-under, now one ahead of Hataoka.
The six-time LPGA Tour winner once again answered the call, grabbing another birdie on 14 to tie Yang at 25-under with four holes to play. The pair carded matching pars on 15, and then Hataoka stumbled on the par-3 16th hole, making bogey to drop a shot and give Yang the lead with two holes to play. That bogey ultimately spelled the end for the 24-year-old, and Yang slammed the door shut on her fifth career victory, recording back-to-back birdies on 17 and 18 to finish at 27-under and win by two over Hataoka and Alison Lee.
“(I didn’t know I would win) until I made the birdie putt on the 17th,” said Yang, who only made two bogeys throughout the week at Tiburón Golf Club. “(Nasa Hataoka) is such a great player and showed a lot of good performance out there and I was feeling really nervous. I had no idea where this was going. All I could do was just stick to my game and trust it. I still can’t believe I did it. So great to have, and feeling honored to have my first win in the U.S., especially CME Group Tour Championship.”
This victory is Yang’s first in the United States as the 16-year LPGA Tour veteran won the Honda LPGA Thailand in 2015, 2017 and 2019 and captured the 2013 LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship in the Republic of Korea. There were 95 starts and 1,729 days between her last victory in 2019 and this week’s win at Tiburón Golf Club, and she set the new 72-hole scoring record at the CME Group Tour Championship, shattering the previous record of 23-under by four shots. Yang is also now the oldest champion of the 2023 season at 34 years, 3 months and 22 days.
There are few players whose careers have lasted as long as Yang’s, and few players are as popular as she is amongst her peers on the LPGA Tour. Nowhere was that longevity and popularity more evident than on the final green on Sunday as a slew of players, young and old, went to douse Yang and her caddie, Jan Meierling, in celebratory champagne, something that made the magnitudinous moment that much more special for the now five-time LPGA Tour winner.
“I’m just so grateful. They mean a lot to me,” Yang said. “They’re like family out on Tour. They’re just all sweet friends. I’m so grateful to see them on the 18th, and I’m sure down the road I’ll do the same for them, too.”
This moment also tastes that much sweeter for Yang considering the challenges she’s faced in recent seasons. Not long after taking up rock climbing as a hobby, she came down with an elbow injury that developed into tennis elbow after overdoing it a bit in the bouldering gym.
At one point, she thought her career was over.
But Yang fought hard to recover, rehabbing her injury and then working on both her physical and mental games in order to just get back to competing on the LPGA Tour, let alone winning. Now, she’s playing some of the best golf of her career, golf that has her back in the winner’s circle after nearly five years.
“Throughout my career, I went through so many ups and downs, and especially recent injury,” Yang said. “I thought and I told my coach, Tony, too, I might not be able to play any longer. But, I’m so glad that I went through it, and it’s because of my team members, coach, Tony, Paul and Jan (Meierling, her caddie) next to me. They helped me go through the tough times and I’m just so happy with them.”
Yang isn’t sure what she’ll spend the $2 million winner’s check on just yet as the victory is probably still too fresh to think that far ahead. So, what will the CME Group Tour champion do to celebrate over the next few weeks?
Well, she’ll start with looping for her close friend Jennifer Song at LPGA Q-Series in Mobile, Ala.
“(Jennifer) is my good friend. We’ve been friends for a long, long, long time and a travel buddy on Tour,” said Yang. “I just wanted to help her, and I actually feel quite a lot of pressure for her. Like I committed to her to caddie for her, but now I’m thinking like, oh my gosh, can I do it, because I never caddied before.”
Despite her inexperience, Yang’s win should now more than qualify her to caddie at Magnolia Grove.
And luckily for Song, Yang can now afford to work for free.
— LPGA (@LPGA) November 19, 2023