Could Yang's upset be dawn of a new era?

Y.E. Yang tosses a ball to fans in the final round.

Y.E. Yang tosses a ball to fans in the final round.

Y.E. Yang picked a good time to become the first Asian-born male golfer to win a major championship. His victory culminated an unusually busy stretch for golf on the international front.

The word from Berlin is that golf has taken one crucial step closer to being embraced as part of the Summer Olympic Games in 2016. That’s welcome news, because beyond the immediate logistics of gold-medal competition, it means that golf is being taken seriously on a global scale. The decision stands in marked contrast to the news from Venezuela, where The New York Times reported that President Hugo Chavez has encouraged government officials to crack down on golf courses because the sport allegedly is “too bourgeois” and an indulgent waste of land and water.

The politically motivated anti-golf campaign is not new. Nationalists looking to mobilize popular opinion against “capitalist elitism” and “Western colonialism” have been targeting golf for decades; the former Soviet Union long dismissed golf, as did Cuba under Fidel Castro and Japan in the 1930s. The cultural attack has more to do with the shaky basis of certain governments than with a proper analysis of golf. The game, after all, is played overwhelmingly in the public domain – on readily accessible courses and by daily-fee players.

To be sure, golf also has its private side, and has been a symbolic element of success and the ability to enjoy the good life. But the exclusive world of country clubs is only one side of the game.

Golf started on public links land, and to this day enjoys one of the largest lifetime participation rates of any sport.

The game itself is a microcosm of individual character development – an ethic evident at every level of the game, from the educational programs of The First Tee to the success of Asian-born women on the LPGA circuit.

Now with Yang’s stirring (and some thought, improbable) victory over Tiger Woods, there’s a David-versus-Goliath dimension to the sport that should generate widespread popular appeal – perhaps similar to the shock waves felt in 1913 when working-class caddie Francis Ouimet defeated two giants from the Old World, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. Back then, the upset sparked widespread public interest in the game throughout the U.S.

Yang’s victory couldn’t come at a better time. The impact will reach deeper into the hearts and minds of youth than any of Chavez’s speeches. It also affirms that golf deserves a place on the global stage of the Olympic Games.

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