Twelve things you should know about Ben An
May 28, 2019
By Chuah Choo Chiang, PGATOUR.COM
- May 28, 2019
Byeong Hun An: Swing in slow motion
Byeong Hun An is amongst a growing number of talented and young Korean golfers emerging on the PGA TOUR. Since his debut in 2017, An has slowly established himself, registering three career runner-up finishes including last year’s the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide.
The Korean, who is better known as Ben An, often lets his clubs do the talking as he seeks his first PGA TOUR victory this week at Muirfield Village. Here are a dozen things you should know about the 27-year-old An.
1. He was born to famous Olympians
An, born on Sept. 17, 1991, is the only son of Jae Hyung Ahn and Zhimin Jiao, each a former Olympic athlete who represented South Korea and China, respectively, at the 1988 Games in Seoul in table tennis. An’s father won the bronze medal in men’s doubles while his mother claimed a silver in women’s doubles and bronze in singles. His parents met two years earlier at the Asian Games, also held in Seoul, and married in 1989.
2. Why golf and not table tennis?
It would have been a given to think his parents’ genes would see An growing up with a ping pong paddle and ball in hand. Instead, he was bitten by the golf bug, even though his choice sport still involves a similar-size ball.
“I wasn't an athletic guy. Probably golf is the only sport I can play. I'm really slow and heavy,” said An, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 209 pounds.
“I've never thought about playing table tennis (professionally). That's what my parents said too. They thought golf was easier than table tennis, although they now know golf is much harder,” added An, who is also pretty handy at table tennis as he often plays with his parents.
An was introduced to golf at a young age -- his father played the game casually -- and spent time honing his skills at a driving range near their home in Seoul. “When I was about five, I started to follow him and began to hit golf balls. My dad thought I was OK at it and that’s how I started,” An recalled.
3. Learning with the hardest club in the bag
Most golf beginners would begin their journey with a mid-iron or wedge, but An was the opposite as he started with one of the hardest clubs – the 1-iron. “I liked the 1-iron, that was the first club I used,” An said. “I remember it was a club with an old-school green colored grip. It just felt fun for me. I still remember it although I was very young then.
“I never got bored with golf. I just practiced as it was fun. I had other friends who liked golf, so we went to the range together or played in the same tournaments. When I was eight or nine, I remember I shot 120 in my first tournament and gradually became better. We also had golf in elementary school, so that helped. When I started to do OK, we thought that golf could be my career.”
4. Coming to America
When it became apparent that An would pursue golf as a career, his parents made the decision to send him to America.
“I moved at the age of 15 because of golf,” An said. “My parents wanted me to go to school in the U.S. and the practice facilities were better. It was a good blend of education and golf. I got into the IMG Academy in Bradenton and lived with my grandma. She took great care of me, always ensuring I had cooked Korean meals every day.”
5. Learning a new language
An did not speak a word of English when he arrived in Florida in 2005. At the Academy, he received extra classes to learn the language and now speaks English as freely as any American on TOUR.
‘When I first arrived, I did not speak any English and I struggled with my schoolwork,” An said. “Then I met a Chinese friend who strangely couldn’t speak Chinese but was fluent in English and we got along great which helped to improve my English.”
Byeong Hun An's journey to the PGA TOUR
6. Not amateurish at all
In 2009, An made golf history when he became the youngest winner of the prestigious U.S. Amateur, capturing the title at the age of 17 when he defeated Ben Martin 7 and 5 in the 36-hole final at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His father caddied for him that week. Such is his modesty that he still plays down the significance of his greatest amateur triumph.
“It was unexpected,” An said. “I was an OK player, certainly wasn’t the best junior player in the U.S. I didn’t expect to win the biggest amateur event and it got me into many PGA TOUR tournaments. I received invitations into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship … it gave me the confidence in the game. I guess I got lucky to win the match play. I didn’t think I was a great player …
“I wasn’t thinking about making the match play, making the final or even winning it. So I remember I didn’t bring out enough of clothes that week as I didn’t think I was going to make it.”
The following year, An became the first defending champion to advance to the semifinals since Tiger Woods in 1996. He was 3-up after nine holes before his opponent, David Chung rallied to defeat him 1-up.
7. Swapping school books for yardage books
After spending one year at the University of California-Berkeley, An took the plunge into the world of professional golf in 2011. “I couldn’t do both things well at the same time,” he said about the balance of golf and school. “As my game wasn’t getting any better, I decided to turn professional as I knew golf would be my life.”
An headed to Qualifying School on the PGA TOUR later that year but failed to make any headway. Europe beckoned and he gained playing rights on the developmental circuit, the Challenge Tour, where his father caddied regularly. It wasn’t quite so smooth sailing but playing on a development circuit toughened him up. “I didn’t play great but it was good experience,” he recalled.
With his parents being top athletes, An benefited from good advice and there were the usual father-son tiffs. “Dad caddied and he didn’t know too much about the technical side of the game. But since he was an athlete, he knows an athlete’s mind and what it takes to be a champion,” An said.
“My parents didn’t push me. They didn’t force me to go to the range or anything like that. They were always saying, ‘You’ve got to practice hard and you can’t expect to win if you don’t put in the hard work.’ So I had that in my mind. I appreciate their support as they were not the typical Asian parents who would push their kids. I guess being athletes themselves, they knew what it was like.”
Other PGA TOUR players based in Lake Nona, Florida where An lives say the Korean is one of the hardest working players on TOUR.
8. Seeing the world
With his Challenge Tour status, An travelled the far corners of the world to play in tournaments and enjoyed visiting destinations such as China, India, Kazakhstan, Kenya and Oman. The first two years proved to be a big learning curve for him.
“We struggled initially and then I got used to it, got used to the different golf courses and in my third year, I got my European Tour card,” he recalled. “Being with dad helped. We had our disagreements as you can imagine but it was always fun. It was always small arguments.
“I’ll listen to him … or pretended like I’m listening to him.”
9. Breakthrough and career launchpad
After winning a Challenge Tour event in 2014, An secured his big breakthrough in the following season when he produced a stunning six-stroke victory at the European Tour’s flagship tournament, the BMW PGA Championship, in Wentworth, England, by defeating a top field featuring the continent’s leading stars.
“I played really well. Hit my irons really good and it was life-changing. Got a five-year exemption, won Rookie of the Year that season and it helped my career,” he said.
His rise continued in 2016 where he first gained Special Temporary Membership on the PGA TOUR with a T2 finish at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans; four other top-25s subsequently helped him secure his TOUR card through the non-member category. It proved to be a memorable year as he later represented South Korea in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro where golf made a return after a lapse of more than 100 years. He finished T11 in Rio.
10. Working with a top teacher
Since turning professional, An has worked with renowned swing coach David Leadbetter, who has worked previously with Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Ernie Els and Nick Price. “He’s been good, it’s working,” said An of his relationship with Leadbetter. “I don’t see him a lot, maybe once a month or even less. I don’t want to see him too much. I want to find out on my own what works for me and I will only see him when I need to correct something in my game.”
11. Life on the PGA TOUR
With countrymen K.J. Choi, an eight-time PGA TOUR winner, and Y.E. Yang, Asia’s lone major champion, setting the trail for Korean golf, An has always harbored hopes of joining the world’s leading professional golf tour. However, he does not intend to forget his roots.
“The PGA TOUR is the ultimate,” he said. “I was always prepared to move up slowly. My career has always been like that. I lost my Challenge Tour card in the first year, went back to Q-school and then finished 30th and fourth and then I got my European Tour card. And now I’m on the PGA TOUR. It has worked out.
“I like playing on a few of the golf courses when we’re in Europe. And I’ll aim to keep both cards and try to play both tours as I like it on the European Tour too.”
12. Slow and steady wins the race
There are many other 20-somethings on TOUR who have achieved success in recent times, but An is prepared to bide his time for a first TOUR title. “I’m not playing my best golf yet, I hope,” he said.
“It’s growing slowly. It’s better this way as it’s a long career. I don’t want to rush … I just want to be steady. I want to gain experience. I’m a really slow guy. I like to chill out and it’s better to move up slowly, gain experience every year and play better every year.”
In his first full season on TOUR in 2017, An finished 102nd on the FedExCup points list and 42nd last season which culminated with him marrying his sweetheart, Jamie. He currently sits 94th following two top-10s at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard and Valero Texas Open this season.
He returns to Muirfield Village with a dream of finishing one spot better this week. Last year, he tied for second, falling in a playoff to Bryson DeChambeau.