LA JOLLA, Calif. (Oct. 22, 2011) -- While most of San Diego was bathed in bright sunshine on Saturday, Torrey Pines was socked in. A cold, heavy fog clung to the golf courses the entire day and forced a long delay to the start of the Farmers Insurance Open’s annual amateur qualifying tournament.
Torrey Pines High alum Jay Hwang didn’t pick up a club during the wait. The UCLA freshman pulled a bunch of flashcards out of his pocket to study for a midterm exam for Art History class.
“I just wanted to make it normal,” Hwang, 19, said. “This is my home course; I’ve played it a lot before. I just wanted to wait until I teed off and see what happens.”
On Torrey’s South Course, Hwang aced his test. A hot putter led him to five birdies in the first 11 holes, and he fired a 4-under-par 68 that made him the medalist by two shots. He will play in his first PGA Tour event when the Farmers tournament is contested on Jan. 26-29.
“It’s something that I have always wanted to do,” a grinning Hwang said. “I know I have a lot to learn. I already know how nervous I’m going to be. It will be incredible. I don’t know how I’ll handle it.”
The runners-up were Arizona State golf coach Tim Mickelson and Philip Chian of Covina. For Mickelson, it was another hard-luck effort. He has finished second two of the last three years in his bid to play alongside his brother, Phil, for the first time on the tour.
Hwang one-putted the first five holes on the 2008 U.S. Open golf course, and he birdied the second, third, fifth, ninth, 11th and 13th. He bogeyed the 10th and 14th. It’s not like he was making all tap-ins either. His birdie putts were from 15 feet, 16 feet, 21 feet, 4 feet, 18 feet and 3 feet.
“I know the greens really well and I know what the ball is going to do,” said Hwang, who spent many afternoons playing Torrey for the youth rate, rushing to finish as many holes as he could in the fading light. He hadn’t played at all it the fog, he said, “But I played in the dark a lot.”
By his own judgment the round was Hwang best’s since the incredible run he went on during the summer of 2009. During that time he reached the finals of the U.S. Junior Championship. As the relative unknown and 35th seed he blew through match play before losing 4 and 3 to Jordan Spieth, who this year became the only player other than Tiger Woods to win two U.S. Juniors.
Since then, Hwang has gone through some swing changes and has struggled at times.
“Yes, definitely (it’s been difficult),” Hwang said. “I keep telling myself that I’m different from other people. I’m not like people who started really early and became stars in their junior career. I still need a few years of learning.”
Hwang, who started playing golf at 10, has seen the Farmers live on a couple of occasions, including the most recent edition, when his friend, Anthony Paolucci, received a sponsor’s exemption.
“While he was playing I was thinking about what I would do in that situation,” Hwang said. “And I saw a couple of things – not only with him, but other players. I saw some things I could work on, things I didn’t know.”