By Lisa D. Mickey
June 21, 2013
NORMAN, Okla. – Her coach at Oklahoma State University calls her "a dream to coach." Her assistant coach says she "likes being under pressure." And her playing record shows that Julie Yang can win anywhere in the world.
In fact, Yang has nearly 80 tournament wins worldwide, recording victories in such diverse destinations as England, Scotland, Denmark, Germany, Korea and the United States.
Her most recent victory came Friday morning in a 19-hole win against Karen Chung to advance into the semifinals of the 37th U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship. Instead of celebrating, the rising college sophomore dutifully spent some quiet time in the locker room reapplying sunscreen before her afternoon match.
Never mind that she had just completed 58 holes of golf in a day and half with another match to play against co-medalist Doris Chen. Her focus appeared dialed in as she calmly prepared for her next encounter.
"She’s so focused, I don’t think she is even aware she has played that many holes," said OSU head women’s golf coach Alan Bratton, who is caddieing for his star player this week. "She’s been in every match and has kept the pressure on her opponent."
The Korean-born Yang, 17, who now lives in Stillwater, Okla., has already turned heads with her first semester of college golf for the Cowgirls’ team. She enrolled at Oklahoma State in January and immediately made an impact, finishing her spring freshman semester with one tournament win and three top-10 finishes in eight starts. She posted a scoring average of 74.04 and a grade-point average of 3.8 as a business major.
She also helped OSU win the Big 12 Women’s Golf Championship, finishing seventh as an individual. She won her first college tournament by seven strokes at the SMU Dallas Athletic Club Invitational and helped OSU place 12th at the 2013 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship, finishing 17th individually.
"She’s bright, talented, a hard worker and we’re excited to have her on our team," said assistant coach Courtney Jones, who was following her play on Friday. "Julie has a creativity on the course you don’t see very often from college players."
It was a coup for OSU to attract Yang, whose list of accomplishments includes wins at the 2011 Women’s Trans National Amateur, 2010 English Women’s Open Stroke Play Championship, 2010 Welsh Ladies Open Stroke Play Championship, 2010 Danish International Ladies Amateur Championship, 2010 Girls’ British Open Amateur Championship, 2010 Paul Lawrie Scottish Schools Golf Championship and, stateside, the 2006 Optimist International Golf Championship, as well as various titles on the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) tour.
"I’ve always wanted to go to college," said Yang, 17, who was born in Seoul. "I’ve seen a lot of my friends turn pro very young, but I wouldn’t have missed this opportunity to play college golf. I get to study and play golf, and, as of right now, I’m just enjoying being a college student."
Because of her father’s business travels in sports management with Woongin, a Korean company, Yang lived in Thailand from age 4-10, moved to Arizona and lived there from age 10-14, and then lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, attending a boarding school until she headed to college.
She began playing golf at age 6. When the family moved to Arizona, her father saw golf instructor Mike Malaska’s name in a Golf Digest listing as a top teacher and enrolled his daughter under his tutelage. But after a few years in the desert, Yang moved to Scotland to expand her range of experiences in Europe.
"My wins in different places have a lot to do with my parents, who have given me the opportunity to compete all around the world," said Yang, who also advanced through two different qualifiers to compete in the 2010 Women’s British Open. "At first, we moved because of my dad’s job, but later, it was for my golf and to expand my knowledge."
And part of that knowledge included her family’s desire to have Yang play college golf at a solid NCAA Division I program in the U.S. Accepting a role on the OSU team meant a move to Oklahoma.
Bratton knew it would not be easy for Yang to join the team mid-season, and he also knew that because of Yang’s skill level, she would likely bump somebody out of the lineup who had played during the fall schedule.
But while it could have been a rocky adjustment for the freshman, the easy-going Yang fit right into the team. She immediately made an impact.
"She’s such a good kid that she added to our team chemistry right away," said Bratton.
A member of the 1995 USA Walker Cup Team, Bratton said he has been impressed with Yang’s ability to "maneuver the golf ball" at will, as well as with her short game.
"Watching her with short clubs in her hands is really something," said Bratton. "The fun part is watching her creativity on the course. She has a lot of options on shots and she reminds me of [former OSU men’s standout] Rickie Fowler."
Now that she has tasted the NCAA Championship, Yang says she hopes to someday win the biggest event of the college season. And while many of her friends have already moved on to the professional ranks, Yang says she’s in no hurry.
"My goal is to one day be a successful LPGA player, but I know that having all of these experiences on different grasses in different places will help me," said Yang, who speaks Korean, Thai and perfect English. "Being involved on a college team is even better than I thought it would be."
Yang’s competitive experiences also include making the 36-hole cut at the LPGA’s 2011 Kia Classic as an amateur invitee, where she finished tied for 46th.
This summer, she will return to the Women’s Trans National and plans to play the Women’s North & South Amateur as well as attempt to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur. She also is looking forward to playing a full college season in the fall.
"Every moment is really special to me," said Yang. "Playing college golf is number one right now because I can learn from my teammates and share with them, too."
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.