China's Yuan Yechun watches his drive from the 2nd tee in round 3 of the men’s golf individual stroke play during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe on July 31, 2021. (KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP)
Carl Yuan Yechun became only the third Chinese mainland golfer to win on the Korn Ferry Tour following a stunning playoff victory over Peter Uihlein at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open on Sunday.
Starting the final round five strokes back of overnight leader Uihlein, Yuan fired a closing 6-under 65 at Le Triomphe Golf& Country Club to tie the American on 14-under 270.
Yuan then delivered the knockout punch with a birdie putt on the first playoff hole, joining Marty Dou Zecheng and Zhang Xinjun as the tour's only Chinese mainland winners.
Carl Yuan Yechun began his day strongly with five birdies and a lone bogey to turn in 32 before making further gains on holes 10 and 15. The tenacious Chinese made a crucial par save from the greenside bunker at the last hole to set the clubhouse mark at 14-under which Uihlein matched with his final-round 70
Victory was especially sweet considering Yuan turned 25 on Monday to earn himself a well-deserved birthday present. More importantly, the win puts him on track to secure a PGA Tour card following last year's sacrifice when he returned to China to prepare for and play in the Tokyo Olympics and China National Games－even though he was in contention to secure one of 25 available PGA Tour cards.
"It's amazing to get my first win out here. It was a tough battle honestly, it wasn't easy," said a jubilant Yuan, who rises to No 1 on the Korn Ferry Tour rankings with the win.
"I'm thankful my wife is here with me. We've been through a lot and I'm glad it's happened. I'm really excited. Technically, it's already my birthday, in China time, as we're 12 hours behind. Well, for my birthday wishes, I did not wish to win, it wasn't one of my wishes. I saved up for something else. It's definitely the best birthday gift I could get."
Yuan began his day strongly with five birdies and a lone bogey to turn in 32 before making further gains on holes 10 and 15. The tenacious Chinese made a crucial par save from the greenside bunker at the last hole to set the clubhouse mark at 14-under which Uihlein matched with his final-round 70. Both players hit their approach shots to within 2.4 meters of the flag in the first sudden-death hole and after Yuan rolled in his birdie, Uihlein agonizingly missed his attempt.
The Chinese golfer has enjoyed a strong start to the 2022 campaign, including two other top-three finishes, and is confident he can finally get his hands on a PGA Tour card. He reiterated he had no regrets focusing on the Olympic Games in Tokyo last summer where he finished tied 38th, and won the individual gold at the National Games later in the year.
"Playing in the Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I made some sacrifices but I knew my game was getting better and that I could come back this year and get the job done. I'm excited to get it done. Representing the country is such a point of pride, and I gained precious experience," said Yuan.
He paid tribute to his wife, Luo Ying－also a professional golfer who he met at the University of Washington.
"Having a wife who knows golf and who knows how hard golf is, it is a great thing, it is my luck. She has patience with me. As an observer, she can tell me my weaknesses. She is very important in my life. We are a team and we support each other to be better," said Yuan, who is now into his fourth season on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Yuan's breakthrough in the US gave China a second international win this month after Wu Ashun triumphed at the DP World Tour's Magical Kenya Open on March 6. Yuan believes it could set a trend for the game back home.
"Our primary goal is to play on the PGA Tour, stay there, and win," he said.
"My aim is to finish in the top 25. As far any higher goals, I want to be No 1 in the ranking and gain PGA Tour qualification."
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