Y.E. Yang gives us a blueprint for beating the greatest closer in the sport
I can still remember a couple years back sitting in front of my television watching Yankees closer Mariano Rivera pitch against the Minnesota Twins in a tight game in the bottom of the eight. Up until that point in the season, Rivera had been perfect in save situations on the year.
So when Delmon Young came to the plate, you almost figured it was a battle Young would end up losing. After all, he was going up against quite possibly the greatest closer in the history of the game. When ‘Enter Sandman’ came blaring over the loudspeaker at Yankee Stadium, you knew it was time to pack up the kids and head for the exit. He was as sure a lock as any pitcher in the game.
So when Young sent a Rivera pitch over the fences for a three-run homer, I recall almost spitting out my dinner at the one thing you don’t see very often with a pitcher of Rivera’s caliber: blowing a chance to closeout the game. You don’t see that happen very often. And by all accounts, it takes a very special player to get one over on one of the greatest closers in the game.
In golf, Tiger Woods is the closest thing to a perfect closer. He is to the game of golf what Rivera is to the closer position in baseball. Once he gets a lead, you might as well chalk it up as a win before the last putt.
At least that was the case until Sunday afternoon, when a South Korean named Y.E. Yang turned the golf world on its head with a performance that should have other players on high alert. The quiet South Korean may have found a chink in Tiger’s armor.
To beat a pitcher like Mariano Rivera, you need to have a fearless mentality when you step up to the plate. A batter is already behind in the count if he’s scared of the opposing pitcher.
Like Rivera, Tiger has an air about him that seems to turn even the coolest customers into a puddle of golfer goo. His calm demeanor and his ability to hit shots in pressure-packed situations made him the ultimate golf closer. And rightly so. Tiger was 14 for 14 going into the final round of a major with the lead.
So why in the world did a relative golf unknown succeed where so many stumbled before? He followed a blueprint that gave him the greatest chance to defeat Tiger when it mattered most:
1) Downplay your chances: Firstly, I’m not saying a tour pro should concede defeat. This goes against my point at the top that you should be fearless. What I am saying it that a player should try and push the spotlight off himself and back onto Tiger. Yang said numerous times that he had ridiculous odds to beat Woods on Sunday. He was trying to make light of his final round battle and turn it into more of a David versus Goliath.
Don’t give Tiger any bulletin board material, or anything that could be taken in a way that would give him any fuel for the fire.
2) Play within yourself: Again, it sounds like a stupid quote you heard back when you played junior golf. But if you take the time to look at players who’ve played with Tiger, it’s easy to see how difficult it can be to play your own game when Tiger stiffs a three-iron to 5 feet.
Yang grinded with Tiger all day, much like Paddy Harrington did until his mishap on the 16th hole. You’ve got to tell yourself that you’re in it for all 18 holes. Yang hung with Tiger until he pulled a rabbit out of the hat with his eagle on the 14th hole. Then he went back to grinding away. It was a thing of beauty to watch.
3) Don’t be afraid to close the deal: I think if you asked a tour professional what the most difficult thing to do in the game of golf, I’m pretty you’d find “closing the deal” at the top of the list. Whether it’s the U.S. Open or the Valero Texas Open, closing out a tour event can be downright difficult.
Throw in one-shot lead with three holes to play at the final major of the year and you’d most likely have tour pro’s asking for a depends diaper to make it through the rest of the round. It could be the toughest thing to do. Visualizing yourself winning a major over Tiger is something most can’t fathom. And for the most part, that was due to his spotless record going in the final round with a lead.
Instead of telling yourself how impossible the task really is, try and ask yourself why not. Why the hell can’t you beat the best golfer in the world? Sure, it’s easy to say that when you’re sitting at a desk writing an article about closing the deal. But honestly, just believe in yourself! I think some players stop doing that when they get paired with Tiger.
Lastly, just breath. If you took a looked at Y.E. Yang throughout the day, you’ll notice his breathing was calm and methodical. He never once sped up his pace and rushed his routine. Do you really think he’d be watching highlights of his miraculous 3-wood if he did? Don’t count on it.