University Place, Wash. — Byeong-Hun An has the honor of being the youngest to have won a U.S. Amateur Championship. His name is forever etched on the Havemeyer Trophy after the ’09 win.
Those memories are better suited for later in life. At the moment, it is the byproduct experience of that win that is best serving the 18 year old.
I have the experience of playing in PGA Tour events, playing firm greens, fast greens, heavy winds, long rough … everything, said An, who played the year’s first three majors at holy grail courses — Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews. I think that may be the difference in me and the other guys. It’s not like I played great in any of those tournaments, but the courses and conditions I played have really helped in me in preparing.
An, a freshman-to-be at the University of California-Berkeley, hopes to parlay the wealth of knowledge into a repeat title here at the 110th U.S. Amateur Championship at Chambers Bay. He is at the halfway mark after a 3-and-2 victory over Scott Strohmeyer in Thursday afternoon’s third round.
In Friday’s quarterfinals, An will play Max Homa, of Valencia, Calif., and soon-to-be teammate at Cal. Ironically, An knows very little about Homa.
I don’t know what he looks like; I just know his name and that he’s on the Cal team, he said. I don’t even know how old he is. I just know he’s my teammate now.
Not knowing about Homa may be best because An is attempting to decipher his own game. And seldom does a reigning champion admit that his expectations are lower than the year before. An seeks to become the first player to win successive U.S. Ams since Tiger Woods turned the trick in 1994-96.
Last year at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., An hoped to make match play. This year, he held the same standard.
Before I came here this week, my expectations were a little bit lower than last year, because I wasn’t playing well, I wasn’t hitting the ball well, he said. Before I played a practice round, I was hitting it pretty well on the range. I started thinking, ‘Maybe this week … Let’s just make match play first and see where it goes.’
An has spent most the season playing on sponsor exemptions. In addition to the trio of majors, he has played six other professional events. His only made cut was at the Verizon Heritage where he tied for 59th. On the major amateur circuit, An finished fourth at the Jones Cup and failed to make the 36-hole cut at the Western Amateur.
While An’s play has been somewhat suspect, he’s still alive and playing.
An reached match play after shooting a 4-over-par 147, a T-40 finish. Against David Dannelly in the opening round, An was 3 down after four holes and rallied to win 3 up. He never trailed in a 4-up victory over Alex Shi Yup Kim and then prevailed against Strohmeyer in the windiest conditions yet.
It was so windy out there, he said. I remembered some details of yesterday’s match [against Dannelly], but this afternoon I had no idea what I did. I wasn’t thinking about 18 holes, I was thinking about one shot at a time because it was so windy.
At this point, An will settle for one win at a time.
I was the champion last year, not this year, he said. Hopefully I’ll do again, but right now I’m not a defending champion. I could lose tomorrow. You never know.
If nothing else, An has the experience of winning.
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA championship Web sites.