The U.S. Amateur golf tournament Sunday crowned the youngest champion in its history — 17-year-old Bradenton resident Byeong-Hun An.
The Bradenton Preparatory Academy senior emerged from a field that featured many of the top college players in the country.
“Like I said, I don’t think age matters, really, in golf,” An said during television interviews after his win at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.
An, a South Korea native, wore an orange shirt bearing a logo of The Concession Golf Club and Residences, where An trains at the Jonathan Yarwood Golf Academy.
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About the tournament’s outcome, the young champion smiled and told reporters: “It is pretty cool.”
An, also a top student at Bradenton Prep, moved to the United States to pursue a better golf game. He left his life and his mother half a world away, moving to a country where he didn’t speak the language to learn the game he’d first tried by chance one day while his father was hitting balls at a driving range. He entered the 109th U.S. Amateur in hopes of simply making it through the stroke-play qualifying portion. Instead he left with the trophy. “It was a good decision, I think. Thanks to my dad for telling me to come over here to play golf. It was definitely worth it,” said An, who was missing the first week of school to play. “I guess I’ll have to try to win the bigger ones now.” An will get a shot to play all the bigger ones next year — the major championships.
With Sunday’s victory, he earned an exemption into next year’s U.S. Open and British Open, and if tradition holds, he’ll be invited to play in the Masters.
An defeated Clemson (S.C.) University senior Ben Martin 7 and 5 in the 36-hole final. An was 9 over par on the day, but that still proved good enough to beat the struggling Martin.
An, the second straight South Korea-born champion, took a 3 up lead by winning three of the last four holes in the pairing’s first of two 18-hole rounds.
He doubled that edge as Martin bogeyed five of the first seven holes in the afternoon round, then closed it out after a short-lived comeback attempt by Martin the second time through the back nine.
An, who turns 18 on Sept. 17, is about a month and a half younger than Danny Lee was when he broke Tiger Woods’ record last year to become the U.S. Amateur’s youngest champion.
Lee was 18 years, 1 month old at the time of his victory, while Woods was seven months older than that when he won his first of three straight U.S. Amateur titles.
‘He’s a great kid’
It has been a heady weekend for An, who is well-liked at Bradenton Prep, a private school he has attended the past few years, said Susan Hedgcock, head of school.
“Academically, he’s a top student. He’s very advanced in math,” she said, adding that he boasts a 4.0 grade-point average. “He’s a great kid. He takes part in all of our student activities.
“We’re very proud of him.”
The school, 7900 40th Ave. W., is planning a celebration for An when he returns, she said.
“He’s a great role model for the younger students, too, well-respected among the student body and faculty,” Hedgcock said. “He’s already set for college.”
An is slated to graduate in May, and he has already verbally committed to attend the University of California, she said.
He loves California, its great golf courses, its mild weather, and the school’s reputation for academic excellence, she said.
Also celebrating Sunday was Jon Bullas, one of An’s instructors at the Yarwood Academy.
“I’m so excited, I’ve just sent him a text message. I’m just psyched,” Bullas said. “He’s just done amazing.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.