South Korea has produced two PGA winners this past year. First, Sung Kang won the AT&T Byron Nelson with a sizzling 23-under par back on May 12. Just two weeks later, Kevin Na outpaced Tony Finau at the Charles Schwab Challenge by four strokes.
Throw in veterans such as K.J. Choi and Danny Lee, and the small Asian country is well represented on the PGA Tour. This weekend, Byeong-Hun An could become yet another example and the third winner this season.
He’s leading a pack of contenders at the Wyndham Championship by just a few strokes, sitting at 17-under after shooting a 66 on Saturday. He bolstered his chances right out of the gate on Thursday with an 8-under 62 to charge into the lead.
Nipping at his heels are Webb Simpson and Brice Garnett at 16-under, while Ryan Armour is just a stroke behind that. For An, it’s not just about a $1.116 million paycheck for winning. It’s also about getting his first PGA Tour victory. He’s lost playoffs at the 2018 Memorial Tournament and 2016 Zurich Classic, so the precariousness of a single stroke lead isn’t lost on the native of South Korea.
“One shot is basically nothing,” An said to PGATour.com. “Like today, Brice made birdie at the first and I made par, and that’s one shot right there.”
It’s been a long time coming to this point. Before he turned pro in 2011, his parents sent him to Florida to fine-tune his golf career.
“I moved at the age of 15 because of golf,” An said to PGATour.com. “My parents wanted me to go to school in the U.S. and the practice facilities were better. It was a good blend of education and golf. I got into the IMG Academy in Bradenton and lived with my grandma. She took great care of me, always ensuring I had cooked Korean meals every day.”
His Parents Are Olympic Medalists in Table Tennis
An is the only son of Jae Hyung Ahn and Zhimin Jiao. The former won the bronze medal in men’s doubles while the latter took home a silver in women’s doubles and a bronze in singles. His mother represented China and his father affiliated with South Korea.
He opted to play golf since, as he puts it, he’s “really slow and heavy.” This hasn’t been an issue, as his dad even served as his caddie when he became the youngest-ever winner of the U.S. Amateur back in 2009.
“It was a good decision, I think. Thanks to my dad telling me to come over here to play golf. It was definitely worth it,” An said to ESPN. “I guess I’ll have to try to win the bigger ones now.
“He was saying the same thing all day, but it helped.”
After the win, he told the Korean Times that he hoped his success would inspire more South Korean golfers.
“They’ll all be happy now,” An said. “Now, they can be happy, like when Y.E. Yang won the PGA Championship. A lot of people were happy for him and they all saw there’s a possibility to now win bigger tournaments. I think a lot of people are going to play golf now and come over here and play golf.”
An tees off at 2:40 p.m. Eastern time on CBS.