Byeong-Hun An: Korea’s current main hope for a place on the International Team
June 04, 2015
By Kenneth Quillinan, Special to presidentscup.com
- June 04, 2015
- Photo by Getty Images
Byeong-Hun An’s recent, unexpected victory at the BMW PGA Championship, the flagship event of the European Tour, proved that the race for a place on the International Team is far from over. The 23-year-old Seoul native jumped a massive 29 places from 38th to 9th in the International Team standings with his emphatic six-shot win at Wentworth.
However, An, who is more commonly known as Ben An since his move to the United States in 2005 to attend the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, is certainly not an overnight phenomenon. In 2009, at age 17, he became the youngest-ever winner of the U.S. Amateur when he defeated Ben Martin 7 & 5. Along with the legendary Arnold Palmer, An is the only other player to win both the U.S. Amateur and the BMW PGA Championship. He shared his thoughts about a potential dream homecoming in October:
Congratulations on an amazing week at the BMW. Reflecting on it, what are your thoughts? Has it sunk yet?
BA: I think it has sunk in now, yes. It sunk in just before the Irish Open. I think it was as late as Wednesday, the day before teeing off at Royal County Down, before I finally realized what a great achievement it was.
How were the nerves on the final day? Judging by your performance, it looks like they were kept under complete control?
BA: Of course there were nerves before every shot, but there was also a lot adrenaline to try and control. I was playing well and I had nothing to lose. I’m still a rookie on Tour, and it was just going to be a nice bonus if I won, but I was just trying to stay calm, because I knew if I did I’d could continue hitting good shots.
The shot on 12th...the best you have ever hit?
BA: I have to say the shots on the 12th and 15th were equally satisfying. The 12th was important because I was one shot ahead, and then all of a sudden I opened up a three-shot lead. You never know with five or six holes to go, but after the 15th I started to feel like it was going to be my week.
What was it like walking up the 72nd hole with a six-shot lead?
BA: It felt great. I mentioned it to my caddy in the practice round on Monday. I was walking up to the green on 18, and said it would just be great to have a six-shot lead into the 72nd hole. It was exactly what I said to my caddie, and I didn’t notice that until my caddie reminded me after I putted out on the final hole. He said, “You called that on Monday and it just happened!’’
How grateful are you to your caddie Dean Smith for helping you with this win?
BA: He kept me calm. We didn’t do anything different; we talked about football a lot while we were playing. I stayed focused, but he kept me relaxed throughout the whole week and it worked out. I support Manchester United and he’s a Newcastle fan, so it was pretty nerve-wracking for him on that Sunday as they were almost relegated! He was probably more nervous about that than watching me play golf!
How did you celebrate the victory and did you reward yourself with any extravagant purchases? Any soju to be found near Wentworth?
BA: I didn’t celebrate much. I just had dinner with my manager, some friends and my caddy. It was just a quiet night, a simple dinner and some Champagne. It was nothing special. I haven’t rewarded myself yet; I’m still thinking, but there isn’t anything that I can really think of at the moment. No, soju, no!
With so many doors opening up after this victory, how has it altered your goals for the rest of 2015 and beyond?
BA: Of course they’ve changed a lot this season. At first I was trying to keep my card, second trying to be in the top 60 and finally trying to win, and I’ve done all of those already. I set myself the goal to play well in the majors and the World Golf Championships because they will lead the way to the PGA TOUR, I think. That’s the quickest way to do it, but I’m still young and I’ve got my European Tour card for the next couple of years, so I happy to continue doing this. My goal is to play well in the majors.
What would it mean to you to play in this year’s Presidents Cup in your home country of Korea?
BA: It would be great I think, playing in my home country and representing the International Team means I’m in the top 12 international players in the world, so it would be an honor to play. I love playing in team matches and would love to be part of it. I never thought about it because I was way behind those guys before the BMW PGA, but now I’m starting to think about it.
Has Nick Price or K.J. Choi congratulated you on your recent victory?
BA: K.J. has been in touch. He called me on Monday morning. I didn’t know who it was at first, and then when I realized, it was like ‘Alright!’ I’ve met him a couple of times, when I played at the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. He’s a great mentor who gives out a lot of useful advice. It was great to receive a call from him. I also saw a couple of interviews with Nick Price. He’s a good friend of my coach Dave Leadbetter, and he’s said he was really impressed, and that’s great to hear, too.
K.J. was quoted as saying he would take the International Team to a Noraebang if asked to organize a team bonding session. What song would you sing if asked?
BA: I probably won’t sing anything. I’ll probably just sit down and watch them, because I’m really not a good singer! I’ll probably just watch!
You come from a very sporting family, with both of your parents being Olympic medallists in table tennis at the Seoul Olympics. What advice have they offered up to you as your career progresses?
BA: They’ve told me to stay patient. They believed in my golf game and told me I could do it as long as I stayed calm and don’t rush. It’s all about staying strong mentally. Sometimes I get really frustrated during a round if I don’t hit a good shot, but they’ve told me just to stay calm and I’ll do well.
Assuming a goal for you in 2016 will be to represent Korea at the Rio Olympics?
BA: I have definitely thought about the Olympics. I felt that I had more chance of getting there than The Presidents Cup, because it’s the top two in the country and I’ve been close. It would be great to get in. My parents have played in the Olympics and won a medal and it would be great to do the same.
It has been almost 10 years since you moved to the United States. What do you miss the most from not living in Korea?
BA: The food is the thing I miss the most. There are things, too, in Korea that are different to Orlando [Florida], but the food is second-to-none there. I love any Korean food. Any rice, soup or meat, there are just so many. It’s really unique.
What message do you have for the Korean fans ahead of The Presidents Cup as the game continues to emerge here?
BA: It would be great if I make it. They have supported me a lot over the last few weeks and throughout my whole golfing career, so I would love to impress them and hopefully they’ll support me. My manager has said he’s been inundated with phone calls for media interviews from Korea and my dad has had even more calls! He said he had over 100 calls in the three days afterwards after my victory, and he was thanking me for blowing up his phone!
Finally, what advice would you offer up to young kids, particularly in Asia, who are hoping to carve out a successful career in golf?
BA: Just enjoy it, I guess. When you’re young, you’re just a kid and don’t know what to do at the start, just play for fun like I did. If you play well and it works it’s great, but if not, then don’t give up. Just enjoy the game; that’s the most important thing.