Byeong Hun An of South Korea

Korea’s Byeong Hun An steps into this week’s star-studded US$20 million Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club with a fresh mindset that he hopes will secure long-term success and longevity on the PGA TOUR.

The 32-year-old is amongst a strong representation of Asian golfers lined-up for the year’s third Signature event which includes playing host Tiger Woods, who will make his first official start since last April, World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, 2022 champion Max Homa and second-ranked Rory McIlroy.

A fast start to his 2024 campaign where An finished fourth at The Sentry and tied second after losing in a playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii last month has put the spotlight back on the Korean, who had to dig himself out of the doldrums after losing his PGA TOUR card in 2021.

Making his second appearance at iconic Riviera, which will host the golf competition at the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, provides added significance as An’s parents were medalists in table tennis at the 1998 Olympic Games in Seoul.

“It’s been a while,” said An of his return to the elite 70-man Genesis Invitational for the first time since 2017. “I’m happy to be back. I was very happy with the results (in Hawaii). The great start gave me more confidence, although it was a shame I was not able to grab my first win.”

An has attributed a new approach, instilled by coach Sean Foley, for his return to stellar form. He has since climb to fifth place on the current FedExCup points list and 44th on the Official World Golf Ranking, the first time he is back in the top-50 since March, 2020.

“For the last few years, golf was the centre of my life. It took a lot of out of my life which also gave me a hard time when I didn’t play well. I think I was too confident with myself. But now, I have realized there are things more important than golf. Golf will be just golf at the end of the day. It is important but family means more. This mindset makes me more comfortable,” he said.

“I think this mindset will allow me to play the game for a long time. If I get too focused on golf, get too into golf, there might be a day when I lose interest or my love for golf. This mindset helps keep me focused and it doesn’t impact my game from a mental perspective. I don’t expect myself to win each time but I know it is important to push hard until the end, and to give my best. I think this is crucial. Compared to the last four to five years, I’ve changed a lot. I believe I’m getting better and better.”

An intends to keep the pedal on the metal at The Genesis Invitational, which produced Asia’s lone winner in 1987 when Chinese Taipei’s T.C. Chen memorably defeated Ben Crenshaw. “Goal for this season is to get into the Top 30 on the FedExCup, Top 30 in the world and win on the PGA TOUR. I have not made any of these goals come true yet, so it is still same goals,” said An, whose career best finish was 33rd during the 2019-20 Season.

With the Paris Olympics scheduled this summer, followed by Los Angeles playing host some four years later, An knows only too well how being a child to famous Olympians has shaped his own sporting career. He recalled his father Ahn Jae-Hyung, who is Korean, and mother Jiao Zhimin, who is from China, did not push him to excel in sports and encouraged him to try golf instead of table tennis.

“They thought table tennis was too hard of a sport to play and thought golf was easier. A few years later, when I was going to the college or just turning pro, they’re like – yeah golf is actually a lot harder,” An laughed. “I wasn’t very fast so it was kind of golf was more fitting but they then changed their minds after seeing me play golf.”

An achieved one of his dreams of playing in the 2016 Rio Olympics when golf made a welcome return and finished a creditable tied 11th, while he did not qualify for Tokyo 2020. He is presently the third-ranked Korean in the world behind Tom Kim (17th) and Sungjae Im (31st) – only two will qualify – but is keeping Paris firmly on his radar.

“There are a lot of talented Korean golfers,” said An, who is a former U.S. Amateur champion and a one-time winner on the DP World Tour where he won the BMW Championship in Wentworth.

“I didn’t have any expectations, and they (parents) didn’t give me extra pressure when I was growing up …. maybe it was because we play different sports. They tried to give me advice and guide me when I was young but after I turned pro, they let me and my coach do the work, decide and think for myself. I think that helps. I think it gives me extra motivation though to play in the Olympics and hopefully get a medal because they have a medal, and I don’t.”

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