Korean-American is PGA’s Rookie of the Year

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Korean-American is PGA’s Rookie of the Year

John Huh has become the first player of Korean descent to be named the PGA Rookie of the Year, as more Korean men seek to replicate the success of Korean women on the world’s richest circuit.

The PGA announced on Tuesday that the 22-year-old Korean-American was chosen over Charlie Beljan, Jonas Blixt, Bud Cauley and Ted Potter Jr.

Huh, who played for three years in Korea before moving to the PGA, got off to a fast start by winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic in February, coming from seven strokes back to beat Australian veteran Robert Allenby in an eight-hole playoff.

In 28 tournaments, he finished four times in the top 10 and 12 times in the top 25. And he earned $2.69 million to finish 28th on the money list.

“It’s a great honor to have this award, especially as a Korean,” said Huh at a PGA-arranged press conference. “Hopefully, I have another great year next year.”

While Huh finished ahead of other players of Korean heritage in the PGA money ranking this year, three Koreans or Korean-Americans - Kevin Na, Charlie Wi and Noh Seung-yul - were in the top 50, all collecting more than $1.6 million. Bae Sang-moon was 84th with $1.17 million, while Choi Kyoung-ju (KJ Choi) finished 103rd with $969,057.

Huh credited his success partly to first-generation Korean golfers in the PGA, such as eight-time winner Choi, 42, and Yang Yong-eun (Y.E. Yang), 40, who won two tournaments.

He recalled watching on television when Yang rallied to beat Tiger Woods, then No. 1 in the world, in the 2009 PGA Championship.

“It really gave us hope that we can play and that we can beat anybody and that we can be among the best players in the world,” Huh said.

“I really felt that they actually opened the path for us so we could do it and play well enough to win tournaments and belong to the PGA Tour,” he said.

Huh, who earned his PGA card after finishing the PGA Qualifying School last year in a tie for 27th, said the experience of getting through the rigorous qualification process was a huge help during his first year on the tour.

Huh said he expects more players of Korean descent will make it onto the tour in the near future and that the increasing opportunities for them to gain experience on the American circuit will help them succeed as well.

The 2012 Q-School that wrapped up on Monday issued PGA Tour cards to four Koreans or players of Korean descent, including Lee Dong-hwan, the first Asian to win the qualifying tournament outright.

“As players, when I was over there [Korea], they didn’t really have a lot of experience, and I think that experience [Q-School] really helped them,” said Huh, winner of the 2010 Shinhan Donghae Open on the KPGA Tour. “I think playing a lot of tournaments really helps a lot of players. I think that’s exactly what we are seeing, in Q-School right now, and all over the place.”

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer, was named PGA Player of the Year.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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