Even after crushing playoff loss, PGA Tour vet An Byeong-hun remains grateful

January 15, 2024

After being suspended late in the 2022-23 PGA Tour season, South Korean veteran An Byeong-hun returned for the 2024 campaign with a new perspective on his career.

The 32-year-old has learned to appreciate what he has on his plate more — his young family, a solid playing career that has netted him nearly US$14 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour and a chance to add to that total on a regular basis. He also recognizes that there are more important things in life than golf.

An could have hit a jackpot of nearly $1.5 million at the Sony Open in Hawaii in Honolulu on Sunday (local time), but he came up short in a three-way playoff as Grayson Murray of the United States snatched the title with a shocking 38-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole. An had a four-foot birdie attempt to extend the playoff but missed the putt to the right, settling for second place with Keegan Bradley of the United States.

An has four professional wins worldwide in his career but is still looking for his first PGA Tour title.

He’s getting close. An tied for fourth at last week’s season opener, The Sentry, and posted another top-five finish at the Sony Open.

An was suspended from Aug. 31 to Dec. 1 last year after testing positive for a banned substance found in over-the-counter cough medicine in South Korea. An acknowledged his mistake then and said he would take full responsibility for his action.

Asked on Sunday why he’s been playing so well on the heels of the long break, An responded, “I think, honestly, gratitude.”

“I tried hard the last couple months when I took some time off to try and look back why every round mattered a little bit too much. Our team came up with, golf don’t really matter that much,” An said. “Obviously, it means a lot to me and our family, but I tried to take a little bit of weight off my shoulder. I know I prepared pretty well in the offseason, worked pretty hard, so I think that the result shows. Even with the tough start today and the last couple weeks, I had some tough spells during the round, but I always came back with some birdies at the end and to finish pretty strong. I think that was the biggest change I had over the last couple months. I think the results showed this week and last week. It’s been going pretty well.”

An could have won the tournament in regulation had he drained his eagle putt from 13 feet away on the 72nd hole, the par-5 18th. He two-putted from there for a birdie and ended up in the three-way sudden-death affair. And the South Korean couldn’t match Murray’s birdie from a much shorter distance when the players went back to the 18th for the playoff.

An said he didn’t want to single out that missed putt as the reason why he didn’t win at Waialae Country Club.

“Obviously, golf is played in 72 holes. I made some silly mistakes out there over the last four days,” he said. “It just feels very disappointing. I’m not trying to blame on the last putts, but obviously, it comes down to that. But overall, had a solid week. I feel like I played well all around. Drove it pretty good, tee to green decent, putted decent on the green. It wasn’t too bad.”

On both of the missed putts on the 18th green, An said he just had a bad read.

“Hit a great shot, just a poor putt and poor read at the end which could have happened on any holes during 73 hole,” An said of his missed birdie opportunity on the first playoff hole. “It’s a shame it ended that way. It hurts, but what are you going to do?”

An said he plans to sit out the next two tournaments and added he hopes his game will not have deserted him by the time he returns for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am beginning Feb. 1.

“My game … the swing, putting, short game, everything. I feel like we always say it’s not mine. We always rent it,” An said. “We rent this good run of golf, and hopefully, I can rent it a little bit longer. I’m playing solid golf, I think.”