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The Ride Of His Life, Bumps And All

Continued (page 2 of 3)

Meanwhile, John kept hanging around Hansen Dam, the L.A. muny where assistant pro Zeke Salas mentored him and took him to play the better local country clubs when the opportunities came up.

"When I first met him and started playing with him, I would have said this kid's got no chance," Salas says. "There were at least three other people at that time at that golf course I thought would go on to have professional golf careers, not John by any means."

But when Huh reached the round of 16 at the 2007 U.S. Junior Amateur in Missouri, Salas knew something was different about this kid. Salas knew the motivation was different the night at the Hansen Dam range when baskets were scattered all over the place and Salas was understaffed.

"There were a lot of decent young golfers on the range, but John was the only one who said No problem' when I asked him if he could help me out," Salas says. "He was always willing to do anything to get a free bucket of balls, and I wanted to do what I could to help him out."

John Huh

Zeke Salas was a mentor to huh at an L.A. muny before becoming his caddie on Tour.

Five years later, not much has changed. Huh still wears out the range while Salas stands sentry as his caddie. Unusual on the PGA Tour, player and caddie share a room on the road. (At the very least, Huh has continued to be thrifty.) The quality of the hotel doesn't matter as much as whether the TV gets Golf Channel, because it is one of the few things Huh will watch. ("Two and a Half Men" and "Storage Wars" are recent additions, but Huh goes to sleep and wakes up to Golf Channel every night and every morning.) He doesn't have hobbies, doesn't go to movies, doesn't drink, doesn't take in the local scene. It's golf course, restaurant (usually Chipotle or Denny's) and hotel--every day.

"You can't get him off the golf course," Salas says. "There are times where his dad or his brother have to tell him it's time to go because they're hungry. He's totally oblivious to how long he's been out there. He's sacrificed a lot of things to get here, and his dad has played a big role in his life, and I just don't think he wants to let his father down."

TURNING PRO: 'I HAD TO DO IT'

Even when the NCAA ruled Huh ineligible for a golf scholarship as a freshman at Cal State Northridge (he lacked two of the required core courses), he still wanted nothing other than to keep playing. "Turning pro, there really was no other option for me," he says. "I had to do it, and do the best that I can for my family."

Now, this was not like LeBron James skipping college and going to the NBA, or even Rory McIlroy turning pro. Huh had no status anywhere, and barely enough money to scrape up mini-tour entry fees. And we're not talking the Web.com Tour, or even the Hooters Tour. No, this was the Pepsi Twilight Tour, where players pay $125 a man to play at a facility that is used for parking during the Rose Bowl. First place is $500, maybe $600.

"If he played in 40 of these Wednesday-night games, he probably won 20 of them," says Steve (Bo) Boveri, who runs the Pepsi Tour in Southern California and Las Vegas.

The success on mini-tours gave Huh the confidence to go to Korea and try to qualify for the Korean Golf Tour, although in retrospect it was another all-or-nothing proposition. It wasn't like he was being funded by sponsors. (The Seoul subway rides to practice were a necessity because he lived with an aunt.) But Huh is a money player. He birdied four of the final six holes to qualify for the KGT, then won the Shinhan Donghae Open in 2010, where he beat K.J. Choi and Seung-yul Noh. Huh was later named Rookie of the Year. After years of his family sacrificing and supporting him, now it was his turn.

"I don't really feel that's something I had to do," Huh says. "We're a family, so we support each other. But yeah, I guess you can say it's my turn." It's easy to assume Huh would be a plodder, a grinder, a fighter. The assumption, though, is reinforced by the numbers. Though he is tied for 111th in driving distance at a persimmon-like 287, Huh is ranked in the top 10 in driving accuracy. He is the only rookie ranked in the top 25 in scoring average. He is ranked in the top 35 in strokes gained/putting, 17th in total putting and 14th in putts from four to eight feet. Perhaps he performs at the moment of truth because he knows it matters so much.

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