Other Asian aspirants have ventured on windier routes. One such golfer is South Korea’s Byeong Hun An, known better as Ben An. He learned to play the game when he was five despite both parents being Olympic Games medallists in table tennis. And as his interest in golf grew, An was sent to the United States at 15 to attend school and undergo the golf programme at the IMG Academy at Bradenton, Florida.
In two years, not only did he learn to speak and write in English, An sensationally won the prestigious U.S. Amateur, becoming the youngest champion in the tournament history. A college career at the University of California-Berkeley ensued, but the powerful South Korean cut short his college stint as he knew professional golf was his calling. An failed in his first attempt at PGA TOUR Qualifying School and landed on the European Challenge Tour, sending him to the far reaches at destinations such as Kenya, Azerbaijan, Oman and Kazakhstan.
However, the hard knocks on Europe’s secondary circuit toughened him up, and An’s class eventually shone as he played his way onto the European Tour, and then breaking through with a massive win at the 2015 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. In the following year, he produced five top-25s in 14 starts to earn his PGA TOUR card through the non-member category and the amiable South Korean had continued to knock on the door to the first victory in America, coming agonisingly close in June when he lost in a playoff to Bryson Dechambeau at the Memorial Tournament.
“The PGA TOUR is the ultimate. I was always prepared to move up slowly. I lost my European Challenge Tour card in the first year, went back to Q-school and then finished 30th and fourth to earn my European Tour card. And now I’m on the PGA TOUR. It’s worked out,” said An.
In contrast, Zecheng ‘Marty’ Dou’s path began at home, with the PGA TOUR Series-China, one of three development tours run by the PGA TOUR, playing a pivotal role. As a six-year-old, he learned the game in Vancouver where he spent five years in Canada with his family as his father wanted he and his sister to learn English and experience Western living. Dou started winning junior tournaments including the World Junior 13-14 age-group, represented China in the Asian Games, dreamed of playing alongside Woods and turned professional at a tender age of 17 after accepting an invitation to compete in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.