Imagine Golf Blogs

Noh Means Yes!

Korean prodigy becomes the youngest pro to win a European Tour event.

Posted Mar 08, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

Noh Seung-yul

On Monday, November 11th 2007, two national flags were raised for the first time in the World Golf Hall of Fame near St Augustine, Florida. One was the Korean flag to honour Se Ri Pak, the first inductee from her country and the other was the Irish tricolour, marking Joe Carr's election to the most select grouping in golf.

Pak, we were informed, had blazed a trail as one of the game's most important pioneers, creating a unique legacy through her victory in the 1998 US Women's Open. In that instant, she became a national hero in her country, to the extent that children's books have since been written about her.

It is not clear whether Noh Seung-yul read any of those bedtime stories, though he was still only a six-year-old at the time of Pak's breakthrough.  Either way, he became the youngest professional in history to win a European Tour event when he edged out compatriot K J Choi to claim the Maybank Malaysian Open last Sunday in a dramatic climax in Kuala Lumpur.

At 18 years and 281 days, Noh outstripped by nine days, the previous record of South Africa's Dale Hayes set in 1971. The youngest winner in European Tour history, however, remains New Zealander, Danny Lee, who was 18 and 213 days when capturing the 2009 Johnnie Walker Classic as an amateur.

I happened to be among the audience two and a half years ago when Pak took her place among the legends of the game. And I remember being struck by the fact that no less a golfing celebrity than Nancy Lopez introduced her on the night.  "We are truly in the presence of a phenomenon," said Lopez. "She (Pak) has paved the way for all the Korean women to come to the US and play for the LPGA."

As it happened, the success of South Korea's women proceeded to have a huge impact on the nation's men, culminating in the victory last August by YE Yang in the US PGA Championship at Hazeltine National. Now we have Noh, securing victory by holing a four foot birdie putt on the 72nd green for a closing, four-under-par 68 to outscore 39-year-old compatriot, KJ Choi.

Whatever about their women, this sort of dominance by Korea's male golfers, especially in becoming the first oriental winner of a major championship, seemed highly unlikely when Tokyo played host to the Canada Cup in 1957.  That was when diminutive Torakichi Nakamura dragged his British-born former caddie, Koichi Ono, to a most improbable, nine-stroke victory as his team partner.  In that moment, it was predicted that Japan would become the next great force in world golf, capable of rivalling established Europeans, South Africans, Australians and even Americans, in pursuit of the great prizes.

But it never happened.  Instead, their efforts became the stuff of locker-room fun. Like when Sam Snead was asked why the Japanese were such good putters. "Because they're yet to discover how difficult putting is," Snead replied.

In the event, the best efforts of Japanese players such as Isao Aoki, Tommy Nakajima and the Ozaki brothers, failed to secure the elusive breakthrough which Yeng eventually achieved last August. Now, as if to emphasis South Korea's strength not only in women's but in men's tournament golf, Noh has made his mark on the European Tour ahead of another 18-year-old, Ryo Ishikawa, who has been hailed as a Japanese sensation since bursting onto the American scene in the Northern Telecom Open at Riviera CC, 13 months ago.

Interestingly, Ishikawa gained a breakthrough victory on the Japanese tour as a 15-year-old, whereas Noh was a year older when winning for the first time on the Asian Tour. After Sunday's triumph, however, Noh now holds player's cards for the Asian, European and Japanese Tours. And one can just imagine oriental sponsors rubbing their hands at the prospect of these two teenagers going head-to-head as golfing gladiators.

On being asked if he had ever played in Asia, Fred Couples famously replied: "This may be embarrassing. I've played in Japan. Is that somewhere near Asia?" One suspects that American knowledge of Asian geography is set for some timely enlightenment.

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