Young and Relentless
Borrowing from Danny Lee's script a year ago, 17-year-old Korean Byeong-Hun An takes the 109th U.S. Amateur
They stood in the bar at Southern Hills CC on a Sunday afternoon, a few dozen members gathered to toast the golfer who'd won the 109th U.S. Amateur on their formidable course. When Byeong-Hun (Ben) An joined them, he was greeted by champagne flutes held high. With a toothy grin, An returned the favor, albeit clutching a Shirley Temple, before thanking his hosts for their hospitality.
The scene was joyous and memorable and heartfelt, provided you overlook one minor detail: Not a single person in the room had any idea at the start of the week that this high school senior, 3½ years removed from leaving his native South Korea to live in the U.S., would be the one being honored—including An himself.
"My goal was just to make it to match play," An insisted, noting how he had failed to qualify for the U.S. Junior Amateur in three attempts and hadn't been victorious in any tournament in three years. "Winning is beyond my wildest dreams."
Somewhere in the midst of playing nine rounds in seven days, An started thinking he just might defy his own logic and become, at 17 years, 11 months and 13 days, the youngest golfer to win the USGA's oldest championship. Yet even after closing out Clemson fifth-year senior Ben Martin, 7 and 5, in the championship match to become the second consecutive Korean-born golfer to win the Havemeyer Trophy and the fifth international player in seven years, he wasn't one to brag.
"I played pretty bad today. I got lucky," said An, who broke the previous mark of 18 years, one month set last August. (Danny Lee, we hardly knew ye.)
What's the saying, it's not how but how many? While An shot the equivalent of nine over par for 31 holes, it was still better than Martin's 15 over. Few will mistake the 36-hole final in Tulsa, Okla., for the Mona Lisa. As An and Martin made five birdies between them while carding 23 bogeys and three doubles, it looked a lot more like Dogs Playing Poker.
Give credit (or is it blame?) to Perry Maxwell's 7,093-yard, par-70 brute, whose narrow fairways had most of the field's 312 players gasping for breath. The EMTs at the course insisted they treated no one for claustrophobia, but if they had offered a pill for the ailment, there would have been a line stretching to Oklahoma City.
Some will argue Sunday's sloppiness fit a championship that seemed to have gone off script from the start. Five days before An gave teenagers something to cheer about, Tim Jackson did the same for the AARP crowd. The Tennessee native who had turned heads by leading July's U.S. Senior Open after 36 holes, shot even-par 140 (with a one-stroke penalty for slow play) to become the Amateur's oldest medalist at 50, breaking the mark 46-year-old Walter Travis had set in 1908. Nevertheless, the championship remains a young man's game, as Jackson learned when he lost in the second round.
Round 2 was also where the last of the eight U.S. Walker Cup members was sent packing. At least Bud Cauley made it past the first round, a fate the other four who qualified for match play—Rickie Fowler, Nathan Smith, Brian Harman and Morgan Hoffmann—couldn't claim. Captain Buddy Marucci can only hope his boys were saving their strength for next week's matches at Merion GC.