Monday, 20 February 2012
GIRONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 14:  An Byeong Hun of Korea hits his tee shot on the 4th hole during Round   (Getty Images)
GIRONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 14: An Byeong Hun of Korea hits his tee shot on the 4th hole during Round (Getty Images)

Byeong-hun An grew up living one life in Korea, where he is best friends with Seung Yul Noh, and another in the USA, where his closest companion is Peter Uihlein. But no matter where in the world he may be, the 20 year old is highly regarded as one of the hottest prospects in golf.

The Seoul native, who is known to friends as ‘Ben An’, began his professional career at the Gujarat Kensville Challenge and, while Peter Uihlein’s pro debut was the hot topic in India after an impressive amateur career, An’s record in the unpaid ranks is almost as impressive.

Indeed, An beat Uihlein to the chase by winning the US Amateur Championship in 2009, creating history by becoming the youngest winner of the famous tournament, before his American counterpart took the title in 2010.

By taking up Challenge Tour membership, An is following a rapidly-increasing trend of American-based players opting to begin their careers on the other side of the Atlantic with the hope of progressing to The European Tour, believing it is the perfect place to gain the necessary experience for life as a touring professional.

“I just turned pro last September so India was my first pro event,” said An, whose Chinese mother and Korean father both hold Olympic medals in table-tennis from the 1988 Games in Seoul. “I had played a couple of mini-tour tournaments in Orlando, so I did that first and then went to European Tour Qualifying School.

“You see nowadays a lot of European Tour guys doing well. It’s growing bigger and bigger and a lot of the tournaments are co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour, so I guess it’s worldwide – whereas the PGA Tour is just in the US.

“You also get a lot of European Tour fields that are better than the US PGA Tour – Abu Dhabi and tournaments like that. You get to travel a lot, it’s more exciting and you get different courses every week, so I think it’s a better experience all round.”

In terms of travelling the world, An has plenty of miles on the clock, having moved from Korea to Florida as a teenager to focus on developing a career in golf.

“It was the golf that took me to the US,” he explained. “I just wanted to play in the States, where the weather is a lot better. It gets really cold in Korea, so the facilities in the States are a lot better. Also, I figured out there were better opportunities to go to school and play golf. That’s why I went to one of the academies, so I could go to school in the mornings and then play golf in the afternoon.”

An has certainly been honing his skills in good company and regularly plays with Uihlein, who has also decided to begin his career on the Challenge Tour.

“I’m in the same club as Peter in Orlando,” he said. “We live in the same area so we’re close friends, and we play together whenever we get the chance.”

Having finished 43rd at the Gujarat Kensville Challenge on his professional debut, An is now focusing his attention on qualifying for The European Tour via the Challenge Tour this year.

“I’m going to play in Colombia for sure,” he said, ahead of next month’s Pacific Rubiales Colombia Classic. “There’s a two month gap before the European season really kicks off, and I’m just going to focus on the Challenge Tour.

“Because I live in the States, I’m going to try and play three, then take a week off, go home or stay in Europe. I’m just going to try and play as many as I can, and it depends on how I play in the first year. It’s really tough, travelling around and playing different courses, different weather, different food; but I’m fine with all of that and I’m looking forward to it.”

An has been used to living two lives surrounded by golf’s biggest up-and-coming stars. Now, as he becomes the first Korean to become a full Challenge Tour member, two will become three.

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