An becomes youngest US Am champion
BY Anthony Powter | US Mens Amateur Tour | 2009 US Amateur Championship | Grand Final | 31 Aug 2009
Byeong-Hun An, a 17-year-old South Korean native, created history this afternoon in Tulsa, Oklahoma, winning the 109th US Amateur Championship against fourth seed, Ben Martin, 7&5, and in the process became the youngest US Amateur champion.
New Zealand’s Danny Lee was 18 years and one month when he won last year’s US Amateur to break Tiger Woods’ record by just under seven months. An, who will turn 18 in September, broke Lee’s mark by a month and a half.
“It was awesome, and then I think it makes it more special because the title is the youngest winner,” remarked An at the press conference following the final.
In just his second time qualifying for the US Amateur, An made the match play portion for the first time and entered this championship with hopes of just making it through the stroke play qualifying portion to get into the match play segment. An’s best performance coming into the championship was a quarter-final finish at last month’s Western Amateur.
“I’m feeling great, and I can’t believe that I just won. I said it before, but my goal was to make the first round, and I think I got lucky. Yeah, I’m happy.”
An becomes the second straight US Amateur champion born in South Korea. An had won only one tournament since he started playing at age 6.
The morning session of the final was a relatively evenly matched affair. Martin was 1 up after nine and the match was all square after Martin knocked his tee shot at the 14th off the flag stick, then had to recover for bogey when his ball rolled all the way off the green and into a bunker. It was a sign of things to come.
An won the next three holes, following Martin’s three-putt at the 15th by sinking a 15-foot birdie putt. Martin then drove over the green on the par-4 17th, fluffed a chip and couldn’t recover with An, 3-up after the morning’s first 18 holes.
By the 22nd hole, An was 5-up and never looked back, winning the 29th hole and the next two to move to 7-up with five holes remaining. The US Amateur title was in his hands after what An later described as an ordinary round of golf.
“Like Ben [Martin], I mean, I didn’t play that well,” said An, who fired the equivalent of 9-over-par for the final, whilst Martin was 15-over when the match finished.
“He made more mistakes than me. I think that’s how it went. We both played bad and we were both exhausted after all the rounds, and then you have to play 36 holes today, and then obviously that makes people tired. I think that’s why we both made a lot of mistakes on the course today.”
Martin, finished in a tie for 2nd for medallist honours, and arguably entered today’s final the favourite of the two, having a world ranking of 46, thirty-five better than An. During today’s final the Clemson State senior just could not get his game going.
“I just didn’t have anything out there today,” remarked Martin at the post-round media conference.
“It was just a struggle. Ben played as good as what he needed to do, and I didn’t give him a great match, but it was a good run, and I had a lot of fun.”
An has been based in Bradenton, Florida for the last three years since his family moved from South Korea to take advantage of better golfing facilities in the US. He ventured outside his comfort zone from half a world away to further his game, yet the sacrifices have obviously been worth it.
“It was a good decision, I think,” he says.
“Thanks to my dad telling me to come over here and just play golf. Learning the grammar has been difficult, but I love the golf facilities, the weather, the people and the food. It was definitely worth it. I guess I’ll try to win the bigger ones now, make it more worth it.”
An will get a chance to test his game in some bigger events. US Amateur champions earn an exemption into next year’s US Open and British Open should they remain their amateur status and, if tradition holds, An will be invited to play in the Masters, as well.
An also became the 12th Korean-born player, and fourth male, to win a USGA title. He’ll now place the prestigious Havemeyer Trophy next to the Olympic table tennis medals won by both his parents in the 1988 Seoul Games.
“It’s awesome, in one word,” said an elated An about the Havemeyer Trophy.
“It’ll look great, definitely. For me now this is the biggest tournament that I’ve played.”
An hopes both his efforts at the US Amateur and those of Y.E Yang winning the US PGA Championship will provide the impetus for South Korean golf to expand even further around the world, particularly in the US.
“There are a lot of golfers in Korea,” says An.
“They’ll all be happy now, and now they can. Like when Y.E.Yang won the PGA Championship, a lot of people were happy for him because he won it and they all saw there’s a possibility to win now bigger tournaments. I think a lot of people are going to play golf now and come over here and play golf.”