Henry's Chopping Block

August 31, 2009 8:36 PM

An's Victory Symbolic of Changes in Golf


Outside of Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., site of the U.S. Amateur Championship, little attention was paid nationwide to the event.

Folks on the west coast of Florida tuned in, but only after a wire story Saturday alerted the local newspapers that 17-year-old finalist Byeong-Hun An of South Korea trained in Bradenton while attending Bradenton Prep Academy.

When An became the youngest amateur champion ever with a sloppy 7-and-5 victory over Ben Martin of Clemson in Sunday's 36-hole final, it continued a couple of trends.

First, the ongoing worldwide success of Korean golfers. Besides its thorough domination of the LPGA this year, Korea produced U.S. Women's Open champion Eun-Hee Ji and PGA winner Y.E. Yang, who took down Tiger Woods in Minnesota.

Second is the recent foreign domination of the men's amateur. Only two Americans (Ryan Moore and Colt Knost) have won since 2003, and An is the second consecutive Korean-born champion, following Danny Lee.

An, who has another year of high school before heading off to the University of California, had a previously undistinguished junior record. But his dedication at the Jonathan Yarwood Golf Academy, located at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton (designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin), is paying huge dividends.

An's expectations at Southern Hills were somewhat modest: to make the 64-man match-play portion of the event. It's not as if An got red-hot after qualifying 22nd, but the pressure may have done in at least a couple of his rivals.

An advanced from his round-of-16 match against Marquette product Mike Van Sickle despite a bogey on the second hole of sudden-death, because Van Sickle made double bogey. In his next match, An survived against Steve Ziegler of Stanford when the latter made bogeys on the second and third holes of sudden death.

The final against Martin was not suitable for its Sunday afternoon television slot, although NBC was able to edit much of the ugliness due to tape delay. Despite playing 31 holes in 9-over par, An was much the best, as Martin went 16-over for the last 26 holes.

That is brutal and an indication the U.S. Amateur has lost a great deal of stature since Woods won three in a row from 1994-96.

That detracts not at all from An, the only player to adjust to the lightning-quick greens and smothering pressure in a tournament where many of the supposed top players found it impossible to finish.

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