U.S. Amateur finalists punch Masters tickets

Byeong-Hun An gets a hug from his father after winning his semifinal match at the U.S. Amateur.

TULSA, Okla. – Ben Martin is one match away from becoming an important part of Clemson, and the state of South Carolina, golfing lore.

It was 20 years ago, 1989 at the U.S. Amateur at Merion Golf Club, site of this year’s Walker Cup match, that Chris Patton became the first – and only – player from South Carolina and Clemson to take home the coveted Havenmeyer Trophy.

Martin, 21, of Greenwood, S.C., and a senior at Clemson, will try to match the feat of the big man from Fountain Inn, S.C., when he takes on Byeong-Hun “Ben” An Sunday in the scheduled 36-hole final of this 109th U.S. Amateur Championship.

Martin advanced by defeating Charlie Holland, 23, of Dallas and a senior at Texas, 5 and 4, while An, 17, a native of Korea who has been living in Bradenton, Fla., the past 3 1/2 years, downed Bhavik “Bobby” Patel, 18, of Bakersfield, Calif., and a sophomore at Fresno State, 3 and 2.

While the top prize will be decided on Sunday, both finalists gained the biggest U.S. Amateur perk – the traditional invitation to play in next year’s Masters at Augusta National and a spot in the starting field at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

“I’m still in school, so I’ll definitely play in the Masters,” said Martin, who has attended the tournament for the past 10 years with his dad, Jim, who is caddying for him this week. “So I’ll stay amateur through the summer in order to play in the (U.S.) Open again (he qualified and missed the cut this year).

“I’ve played Augusta one time when our (Clemson) team got to go there,” Martin said. “It was January and about 40 degrees so it really wasn’t too much fun. It was great playing in the U.S. Open this year, but being from South Carolina, the Masters has always been very special. Right now it’s just hard to imagine I’ll actually be playing, being inside the ropes instead of outside.”

An said the idea of playing in the Masters started creeping into his head the night before his semifinal match.

“I couldn’t sleep just thinking about it,” said An, whose biggest – and only – victory came five years ago at an AJGA event in California. Prior to this week, his biggest accomplishment was making the quarterfinals at this year’s Western Amateur.

“I mean, it’s everyone’s dream to play Augusta in the Masters. It’s hard not to think about it.”

Although Martin, an All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection in 2007 and 2009, has never met Patton, he said he received a voice mail from him Friday night.

“He told me to believe in myself, stay patient, don’t be intimidated and go out there and roll the rock,” Martin said.

He definitely did all of the above in his match with Holland and now hopes to join the former Tiger great in the state and school record books.

An, too, will be playing for a little history of his own in the championship match.

A victory would make him only the second Korean-born champion, joining last year’s winner Danny Lee.

And, at 17, An would become the youngest champion in U.S. Amateur history. Last year at Pinehurst in North Carolina, Lee grabbed that distinction away from Tiger Woods, who was 18 years, seven months and 29 days old when he won the first of his three U.S. Am titles in 1994. Lee was 18 years, one month old at the time of his victory.

“That would really be special, especially for Korea,” An said. “It would be great to be the youngest and to win for my country, too.”

Throughout the week, both Martin and An have had their fathers working as their caddie. An’s mother, Zhi Min Jiao, who is Chinese, was in China during the week. Martin’s mom, Suzie, was back home in Greenwood until she caught a flight to Tulsa Friday night.

It wasn’t until Saturday, though, that she made it. Weather problems in Houston caused her flight to be re-routed to Beaumont, Texas, in order for the airplane to re-fuel. By the time she finally got to Houston, she missed her connection and had to spend the night there.

She took the first flight out Saturday morning and by the time she arrived at Southern Hills and caught up with her son and husband, they were on the eighth tee.

“It was one big mess,” Suzie said of her day of travel. “But at least I got here in time to watch Ben play, what six holes? The good news is, I’m here to watch him play all day tomorrow and that’s the most important one.”

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