by Sean Martin
TULSA, Okla. – Byeong-Hun An had one request as he walked into Southern Hills’ clubhouse after winning the U.S. Amateur. He wanted a Shirley Temple.
The non-alcoholic beverage was an appropriate request from the youngest champion in the tournament’s history, who can’t legally imbibe, but needed something to quench his thirst after a long, difficult day at Southern Hills.
An beat Ben Martin, 7 and 5, on Sunday, but both players struggled in the final because of pressure, typical USGA conditions and an inconsistent breeze.
In the final, a hole was halved with double bogeys, another was won with bogey, and pars were good enough to win many holes. An played 31 holes Sunday in 9 over par, while Martin was 15 over.
“Like Ben, ... I didn’t play too well, actually,” An said. “He made more mistakes than me. I think that’s how it went.”
Struggles or not, the 17-year-old An became the youngest U.S. Amateur champion in history, besting Danny Lee’s record from last year. An is also the second consecutive Korean-born champion.
He will add the Havemeyer Trophy to an impressive family trophy case.
Both of his parents won Olympic medals in table tennis. An’s father, Jae-Hyung An, won bronze in doubles for Korea, while his mother, Zhi Min Jiao, won bronze in singles and silver in doubles while representing China. She still lives in Beijing, and received the good news about her son’s victory via an early-morning phone call. It was around 4 a.m. in China when An wrapped up his victory.
Zhi Min Jiao will get to see the trophy when she visits her son and husband in Florida in about 10 days. An hasn’t seen his mother since January.
He lives in Bradenton, Fla., with his father and grandmother. They moved to the United States three-and-a-half years ago so An could attend the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The family still lives on Florida’s Gulf Coast, though An left the academy more than a year ago.
He said the family moved to Florida because the weather and practice facilities were better than those in his native Korea. This victory validated that decision.
“100 percent,” An said. “It was a good decision, I think. Thanks to my dad for telling me to come over here and just play golf. It was definitely worth it.”
This was just An’s second victory in three years, but they don’t get any bigger. An’s last victory before this week was the 2006 AJGA Nike Golf Junior at Marshallia Ranch.
He clinched the match with a clutch birdie at the par-3 11th hole in the afternoon after losing the previous two holes with three-putts to fall to 4 up with eight holes remaining.
Martin hit first on the par-3, placing his tee shot within 10 feet of the hole. An followed by hitting his tee shot to 15 feet, and made the birdie putt before Martin missed his try. An won the 12th and 13th holes with pars to close out Martin.
An won’t have long to rest, as he is playing this week’s AJGA Junior Players Championship, which begins Friday. An will have to deal with sky-high expectations when he tees it up at TPC Sawgrass as he becomes the first U.S. Amateur champ to play an AJGA event post-victory.
“I’ll enjoy this moment right now, but starting next week, ... I’ll go back to the same mentality I had a few days ago before I played this tournament,” he said. “I’ll try to ignore (the expectations). I’ve still got a long career to go. It’s not done.”
Byeong-Hun An outlasted Ben Martin to win the U.S. Amateur.
Martin, a fifth-year senior at Clemson, was 3 down after the morning round, but won the 19th hole with par. He made bogey on six of the next seven holes, hitting just one fairway in that stretch. He hit just three greens in regulation in the 13 holes of the afternoon, making eight bogeys and five pars.
“I just didn’t have anything out there today,” Martin said. “It was just a struggle. ... I was just kind of out there searching for something and never found it.”
An shot 75 in the morning round, but had a 3-up lead over Martin, who shot 77.
Martin had chances to cut into An’s lead late in the morning round, but Martin lost the par-4 15th hole after three-putting from 12 feet. He ran his downhill birdie putt 15 feet by the hole and missed the comebacker. An went 2 up with a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 16, then won the next hole when Martin made bogey after trying to drive the short par 4.
Martin had a 1-up lead after nine holes, but An took the lead after winning the next two holes with par. Martin made birdie on the par-4 12th to draw all square, but An won No. 13 with par after hitting the green in two shots. Martin missed the green and failed to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker.
Martin hit the flagstick with his tee shot on the par-3 14th, and made bogey after his ball bounded into a bunker, but still won the hole to return the match to all square. An hit his tee shot well short of the green and 3-putted from 35 feet for double bogey.
Final results from the U.S. Amateur, played Aug. 24-30 at the par-70 Southern Hills CC in Tulsa, Okla.:
Byeong-Hun An def. Ben Martin, 7 and 5