Korea’s Byeong Hun An returns to PGA TOUR action at the season-opening Fortinet Championship in Napa, California this week convinced that his dark days are well behind him, thanks to a new regime which includes boxing and 18-hour fasting.
Once a top-30 golfer in the world, the 30-year-old An lost his PGA TOUR card for the first time in five years in 2021 but promptly regained his playing rights through the Korn Ferry Tour following one victory and seven other top-25s. He credited a combination of good-old fashion hard work, healthy eating and putting on boxing gloves for his quick return onto the world’s elite circuit.
“It was probably the lowest point of my career,” said An on losing his TOUR status. “I had a terrible season and it kind of hit me. I’m like OK, let’s try to spend more time into my golf and see what it feels like to work harder. In the off-season, my schedule every single day, even on Christmas, I was practising and I didn’t take a day off unless the golf course was closed.”
His new routine meant he was out of the door by 7am, either working out in the gym or hitting a punching bag with boxing gloves on. Then, he would spend several hours at the practice range until lunchtime.
“I will work out three to four times a week and days when I’m not working out, I’ll box for 30 minutes and I’ll be punching the heavy bag. When you get older, everything feels slower, everything feels hard. I didn’t need all that work previously, and I still felt great but as I get older now, I have to do the work I haven’t done. I don’t eat anything between 6pm until the next day at 12 noon so that is about 18 hours of fasting. I just drink a cup of coffee and I’ll do the cardio work.”
And how does boxing actually relates to golf?
An explained that while hitting the punching bag has cardio benefits, it also helps increase the speed of his hands which has since translated to a faster swing speed. He has gained some 10 yards or more in iron distances this year which in today’s modern game can be pivotal.
“I’ve never boxed previously, and I don’t like running. Boxing is much more fun as a workout. That’s why we added that into my routine and it kind of increased my hand speed and helped with my upper body movements,” An said.
“I’ve gained a lot of distance. For my 7-iron, I gained about 10 to 15 yards. The swing speed is going up about 7 miles faster. It’s not because we’re trying to hit it harder but the things we’ve been doing off the golf course.”
The pre-season hard work paid off almost immediately as An won the Lecom Suncoast Classic in his third start of the year, which cemented his self-belief that the new routine was paying off along with the changes made to his golf swing under the tutelage of new coach Sean Foley.
An is as motivated as ever to try and secure a first PGA TOUR victory in the new season, especially when countrymen Si Woo Kim (3), Sungjae Im (2), K.H. Lee (2) and newcomer Tom Kim (1) have all enjoyed the thrill of winning against the best in the world. “I mean it’s not easy.
Obviously, the PGA TOUR is very competitive and if I look back, I’ve won on the Korean Tour, European Challenge Tour, Korn Ferry Tour and European Tour. But I’ve never won on the PGA TOUR. Maybe there’s a little more pressure,” he said.
“Winning in golf, you have to be very lucky too. Finishing top-10, top-5, that requires good golf but winning, you need to play good golf or you have to get very lucky. I got a really fortunate win this year (on the Korn Ferry Tour) as I bogeyed the last hole and someone made double. Things you cannot control has to go your way. You have to get lucky bounces.”
An, whose parents are Olympic medalists in ping pong, produced commendable finishes of 42nd, 53rd and 33rd in the FedExCup standings from 2018 to 2020, and enjoyed a career highlight after being selected to play for the International Team in the 2019 Presidents Cup. His world however turned upside down in 2021 when he missed more cuts than made them, and it coincided with his decision to switch coaches from his long-time teacher, David Leadbetter to Foley.
“I had four good seasons but I was very frustrated because at some point, I was a top-50 player in the world but I never made it to the TOUR Championship and it kind of bothered me,” said An.
“My main goal was always to win a PGA TOUR event and finish as a top-30 player in the FedExCup. I kept missing out and I didn’t want to be that same player. I wanted to make one more leap to become a better player. Changing swing coaches is not easy because it completely changes the golf swing, and you’ve got to accept it’s a long journey.
“By the end of last year and the beginning of this year, I felt like my swing was coming through. It was getting a lot more comfortable and I was hitting it a lot farther. Unfortunately, I lost my TOUR card but it gave me a new perspective by going to the Korn Ferry Tour. Your appreciation for golf goes up a bit more, so losing my card was very disappointing but maybe it was a good thing. If I look back in my career later, that year was bad but that might help me to become a better player in the future.
“I want to be the best golfer I can potentially be. It might be 50th in the world, might be 100th in the world, might be 20th. You never know. I don’t want to set the bar. Why would I set the limit when I don’t know what the limit is? I don’t know how good I can be. World No. 1 is a very hard thing to do but you never know what can happen in golf. I can go win the first three events and in golf, you can see a lot of weird things. I’m trying to maximize the potential I have.”
The Fortinet Championship will be played at Silverado Resort and Spa (North Course), with Max Homa defending his title.