The trophy sits on the tee box as Gunn Yang, San Diego, California, tees off on the first hole during the afternoon round of the 36-hole championship match of the 2014 U.S. Amateur Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club on Sunday, August 17, 2014, in Johns Creek.
Photo: Curtis Compton
Photo: Curtis Compton

Big surprise at the U.S. Amateur

Not every U.S. Amateur winner is Jack Nicklaus. In fact, it is far more likely that the winner will throw himself off this springboard and belly-flop into the shallow end of the professional pool.

But that is tomorrow’s concern. On a Sunday that the U.S. Am produced one of its most implausible champions ever, better to simply revel in the moment.

There may never be another chance to break out these five words at a golf tournament, so, after this most surprising week at the Atlanta Athletic Club, better use them now:

Welcome to the Gunn show.

Gunn Yang, who three weeks ago was playing so poorly he withdrew from the California State Open after nine holes, who finished 87th in most recent college tournament, who had his scholarship at San Diego State yanked, went through this Amateur like a John Deere through high grass.

So steep and sudden was Yang’s rise from the depths of amateur golf he should have had at least a small nose bleed while accepting the Havemeyer Trophy Sunday evening. Yang was the lowest-ranked amateur (No. 776 in the world rankings) to ever claim the national title. He knocked off five top 100 players over the week, including Sunday’s victim, Canada’s Corey Conners.

With a par and a birdie, Yang won the first two holes of the 36-hole championship match with Conners. And from there, he never trailed on the way to winning 2 and 1.

Once this guy gets a lead, you can’t pry it loose with a crowbar. When Yang made a big-breaking 18-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole of the afternoon session to go 2 up with four to play, that lead was almost as safe as a certificate of deposit. He milked that advantage on through the 17th, where he closed out Conners with a stress-free one-foot par putt.

In the process, Yang had to stew through a 97-minute rain delay, but even that couldn’t break his momentum. Interrupted in the afternoon round after hitting his tee ball on the par 4 11th, Yang was relaxed enough to grab a 30-minute nap before the restart. He hit his approach into a front left bunker, but got up and down to halve the hole.

“I never heard of him before, I guess, but it didn’t really surprise me because there are a lot of great players out there,” said a resigned Conners.

It was Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schniederjans, the world’s No. 1-ranked amateur, who put it a little more succinctly after Yang eliminated him Thursday: “Who is this guy?”

Yang was the guy who packed only three pairs of shorts and four shirts for this trip, which would seem to indicate even he didn’t think he’d be make it very far past two practice rounds and two days of stroke play. Either that or he really likes to do laundry.

“I didn’t want to make my luggage too heavy. Yeah, that was it,” Yang said.

“I was just trying to make it to the match play portion, really,” he said. “That was the goal first of all. Then, when I made it to the match play, I was like maybe I can do this.”

Yang, who went through back surgery just less than 15 months ago, was playing so poorly he appeared in only two college tournaments last season. Then the Aztecs coach Ryan Donovan pulled his scholarship.

“I was mad, I was so mad,” said Yang. As of the Sunday, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion faced going back to school without a scholarship.

Might winning the loftiest amateur title be enough to get it back?

“Better,” Yang said, chuckling, “or else I’m going to transfer.”

No, not every Heisman Trophy winner is Tony Dorsett and not every U.S. Amateur winner is Jack or Arnie or Tiger.

In fact, for all the pub about this tournament revealing the next great star of golf, it is far more common for the U.S. Am to stand as the winner’s greatest single accomplishment.

Put together all the Amateur winners since 2000 and they combine for only three PGA Tour victories (Ryan Moore has them all), nine wins and six titles on the European Tour.

Who knows where Yang will go from here, especially when his first priority is to just get back his scholarship?

For now, he has his name on this beautiful golden trophy, one that is too big for his room back home, he said.

So, go crazy, kid. Enjoy it like it is the singular victory of a lifetime, because you never know.

“Well, I’m doing an interview now, so I can’t, you know, just go crazy. I am really happy about it, though, for sure,” he smiled.

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