Richard Yang surprised everyone, including himself.
The Peachtree Ridge sophomore golfer had just hit his best shot of the day at the Class AAAAAAA state tournament, a strike so good it brought out a very raw reaction in him.
“I hit an absolutely great 6-iron up to a par-3,” Yang recalled. “I just blew it by the green. I wasn’t thinking I was getting there, I was thinking I was going to be five or 10 feet short.”
He was playing alongside Forsyth Central’s Jack Darke and Grayson’s Ryan Light, and what happened next had the entire group laughing in the middle of the most pressure-packed event of the season.
“He rips the 6-iron comfortably onto the green and in a moment of pure joy he just goes, ‘Man, I’m huge!’ and they just started laughing,” Peachtree Ridge coach Bill McAullife said. “It was just a moment of, like, ridiculousness in this highly competitive environment. Without sounding arrogant, he was just like, ‘Man, I just hit a great shot’, and he was just as surprised as everyone else.”
Yang finished third in the individual state tournament, shooting a 70 and a 74 in his two rounds to go along with his 73 at the area tournament. And while the Daily Post’s Boys Golfer of the Year is an exceptionally well-rounded player as a sophomore — and is even younger than most of his opponents due to his August birthday — the key to his game comes back to the ball-striking ability he had on full display in the state tournament.
“He can pull off shots that other players in the field just frankly can’t,” McAullife said. “He hit an eagle at the state tournament on one hole that I don’t know had too many birdies. He didn’t just cut the corner over some trees, he drove it past the next fairway right by the green and was able to chip in a par-4. But then also the fact that he has that mindset. He knows when to be aggressive, when to dial that back, and he doesn’t get too down on himself.”
Mindset is everything for Yang in a sport where the only opponent is yourself. It is a fine line between locking in enough to formulate a plan of attack for a course, while also being loose enough to remain calm in the process of executing the plan. The key to his stellar season was walking the line without losing a grip on either side. It is a challenge in its own right before you even pull a single golf club out of the bag
Just the way Yang likes it.
“I feel like when you are playing at this level, you get a lot more serious and you have to think a lot more about what you’re doing,” Yang said. “I like to think about shot by shot and not get too ahead of myself. When you think about the next round, the next thing that’s coming up, it’s very tough for you to kind of game what you’re doing and what you’re trying to do.”
The gaming side of golf is something Yang works obsessively at on his own time, always trying to come up with ways to fine tune his game. One putting exercise he runs involves setting up four golf tees in a tight square about a foot shy of the hole, forcing himself to thread the needle on practice points and squeeze the ball into an even smaller window than he might have to when it counts.
“It all starts in practice,” Yang said. “I like to give myself a tough scenario, and I try to imagine I’m there in the tournament. I give myself drills that are very challenging, so it makes me feel a little challenged before I get to the tournaments.”
His pragmatic approach combined with an infectious love for the sport rubs off on everyone around him. Yang established himself as not only the best boys golfer on his team, but in all of Gwinnett. But taking what he learns from his experiences and trying to help those around him is just as important as posting the low numbers himself, something McAuliffe has noticed since Yang arrived in Suwanee as a freshman.
“When we’re at practice, Richard is giving advice and tips to the other guys,” he said. “I don’t ask him to or anything, he’ll just be like, ‘Hey, I see you’re doing this, have you tried this?’ and the kids try it, and it works. That’s just kind of how he is. I think he enjoys spreading golf to his peers.”
Yang still has two more years at Peachtree Ridge, and already feels like he could have won the individual championship if not for a calf injury that limited him on the final four holes of the tournament. He cited dehydration as a possible cause for the cramping, and the same way he would with figuring out how to play a hole location or select a club, he is filing it away for next time.
“It’s another experience in the books where I really learned from it,” he said. “I try to stay as positive as I can; when you’re negative, nothing is really working.”
And for McAullife, there is nobody he would rather have helping to lead his teams than Yang as he heads into the back nine of his high school career.
“What makes me most proud about the Peachtree Ridge golf program is that each and every player represents the school well,” he said. “I am proud to say that they’re on the team, and there is no one that I wouldn’t trust completely on the golf teams. That is our expectation and the way we play, and that is epitomized by Richard and the way he plays golf. You wouldn’t know if he was six shots under or six shots over. He is the example that the rest of the team follows.”