U.S. Amateur Champ An Opens Bay Hill With 77

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Reigning U.S. Amateur champion Byeong-Hun An is prepping for his Masters appearance in two weeks by competing in this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Fla. (John Mummert/USGA)

March 26, 2010

Orlando, Fla. – Despite having to chew on a rather dyspeptic 5-over-par 77 Thursday in the opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, U.S. Amateur champion Byeong-Hun An enjoyed getting his first taste of tournament golf at the professional level.

“I’m having a great time. I just wish I was playing better. I’m disappointed, yeah,” said An, the 18-year-old from Korea who last August became the youngest U.S. Amateur champion when he defeated Ben Martin, 7 and 5, at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla. “I love the atmosphere here. It’s been great meeting a lot of great players.”

Playing with Southern Amateur champion Gregor Main and PGA Tour rookie Josh Teater, An made just one birdie against four bogeys and a double bogey on the 7,381-yard, par-72 Championship Course at Bay Hill Club and Lodge. He admitted to being so nervous at the start that he didn’t feel calm until the second nine.

“I don’t think I even remember the first six or seven holes,” An said with a chuckle. “It did take me a while to kind of feel normal.”

His birdie at the 400-yard par-4 10th hole was the result of a 320-yard drive and a wedge shot to nine feet. “That felt good,” said An, who went on to shoot a steady even-par 36 on the inward nine, a performance marred only by a bogey at the signature 18th hole on Palmer’s famed resort course.

An, who received an automatic invitation to Bay Hill for his U.S. Amateur victory, hit seven fairways and 11 greens Thursday but needed 33 putts – though he didn’t have a three-putt.

Chipping and putting have been An’s focus, he said, for the last few months; no surprise with the Masters Tournament approaching. The U.S. Amateur champion traditionally receives an invitation to Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., and An has accepted. He is scheduled to play the first two rounds April 8-9 with defending Masters champion Angel Cabrera and U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover.

 “I’ve been working on all parts of my game, but especially my short game. It’s probably my weakness right now,” said An, whose only previous competition in 2010 was last month’s Jones Cup at Ocean Forest Golf Club in Sea Island, Ga. An fired a 1-under-par 71 in the final round to finish fourth at 8-over 224, two shots behind Augusta State University sophomore and 2008 U.S. Amateur semifinalist Patrick Reed.

 An, who lives in Bradenton, Fla., said he planned to head to Augusta National next week, perhaps Wednesday or Thursday, to play a few practice rounds. It will be his first visit to the home of the Masters, and he’s trying not to get too excited.

 “All I know is what I’ve seen on television and this map of the course I have in my room,” said An. “Everyone knows what a great course it is, so, yeah, I am looking forward to it. But right now I’m trying to play my best in this golf tournament. I feel like I’ve already learned a few things. Playing with Josh [Teater, who shot even-par 72], I saw how he hung in there; he showed me a few things. The whole experience this week, I hope it helps me down the road.”

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