An Awaits Another Chambers Bay Test
By Adam Zielonka, USGA
One win for the record books, one ringing endorsement from a respected golf veteran, and a second USGA championship start at Chambers Bay for Byeong-Hun An.
An carded a bogey-free 65 on May 24 in the final round of the 2015 BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event, to seal a six-stroke victory with a tournament-record 21-under-par 267. His victory at the Wentworth Club earned the 23-year-old an exemption into the 2015 U.S. Open. It also impressed 2014 European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, who was eager to compare An to today’s best young players.
“I think we have seen the birth of a new superstar in world golf,” McGinley told the Irish Mirror.
Granted, the victory was An’s first on the PGA European Tour, but McGinley might be on to something. An’s recent success, past achievements and competitive experience at Chambers Bay make the 2009 U.S. Amateur champion an intriguing name to watch during the 2015 U.S. Open.
Ben An (as he prefers to be called) was born in Seoul, Republic of Korea, to two Olympic medalist table tennis players, and was first exposed to golf at age 7 when his father brought him to the driving range. As a teenager he moved stateside to attend the David Leadbetter Junior Academy. He explained after the BMW PGA that he focused on golf because he wasn’t “quick enough” to play his parents’ sport.
An went on to become the youngest U.S. Amateur champion – at age 17 years, 11 months and 13 days – with a 7-and-5 victory over Ben Martin at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.
“It was one of the turning points in my career and certainly increased my desire to see just how far I could go in the game,” An said. “I will always think highly of the USGA and the part it played in my development.”
Chambers Bay was only three years old when it hosted the 2010 U.S. Amateur, its first USGA championship. Defending champion An advanced to the semifinals before losing to eventual runner-up David Chung, 1 up.
The course has undergone alterations since 2010, but An knows from that experience that Chambers Bay is “tough and demanding.”
“It’s a course that asks questions of every club in the bag,” An said. “I’m really looking forward to taking up the challenge.”
An is one of only 11 players in the 156-player U.S. Open field who played in the 2010 Amateur, but he does not expect that to give him an edge.
“I’m up against the world’s best players and I’m sure they will all know what awaits them,” he said. “I do not think my experience at the course will make a significant difference.”
If he plays the way he did in his runaway win at Wentworth, An won’t need additional advantages. The highlight of An’s final round was his masterful second shot on the par-5 12th hole, a 5-iron approach he landed within a foot of the hole for a tap-in eagle.
An, whose stroke average of 69.9 is second-best on the PGA European Tour this season, didn’t think about winning until his lead was insurmountable.
“I suppose there was a little disbelief and the feeling of, ‘Is this happening?’” An said. “I felt I was ready to win [a professional event], but I never thought it would be in such a big tournament. It was like a dream.”
An is hopeful but modest about his chances in the U.S. Open.
“I will just try to play as well as possible and see what happens,” An said. “I do not set expectations too high because they can be a burden.”
It may be for the best that An keeps a grounded outlook heading into his second U.S Open. But like McGinley at Wentworth, others may not be able to contain their excitement about An’s prospects.
Adam Zielonka is a Communications intern at the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.