UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Byeong-Hun An tossed his putter and rested his hands on his knees, doubled over in disbelief.
A victory celebration on the 18th green, this was not.
One quick swing Saturday cost An an opportunity to reach the finals of the U.S. Amateur. The opportunity to match Tiger. The opportunity to play the Masters for a second consecutive year.
That one, it seems, hurt the most.
“I know what it felt like when I got there last year,” said An, who last year, at age 17, became the youngest U.S. Amateur champion, “and you know, coming out on (Magnolia Lane), I’m like, ‘I’m coming back here next time or as soon as possible.’ ”
Now, he’ll have to wait a little longer.
An, the defending champion, lost to David Chung, 1 up, after taking double bogey on the 18th hole at Chambers Bay. Vying to become the first player since Woods (’94-96) to win consecutive U.S. Amateur titles, An’s front nine of “perfect golf” unraveled during a dizzying back nine that left him struggling to keep his composure, even 30 minutes after the winning putt had been conceded.
Earlier, while Chung answered questions from reporters on the 18th green, An crouched on the back fringe, his head sunk between his legs. Little consolation came from a U.S. Golf Association official, who gave a short speech before awarding An a medal for reaching the semifinals. An tipped his cap to the assembled gallery.
“Kudos to him for playing a great match,” Chung said later, and it was. An took a huge lead at the turn before the hottest player in amateur golf ignited a memorable back-nine rally and soaked in his moment on a sun-splashed afternoon.
Forgotten, of course, will be An’s birdie-eagle-birdie stretch on the front nine to build a 3-up lead. So too will be An’s clutch putt for par on the 17th, a ticklish 6-footer struck moments after a train roared by behind the green.
This match, unfortunately, will be remembered for the mis-hit iron off the 10th tee that signaled trouble. Or the 3-iron that sailed 20 yards past the flag on the par-3 15th, leading to a bogey. Or, most damaging, the 5-iron shot that came off horribly wrong with the match still undecided.
Trying to hit a cut from the right side of the 18th fairway, An spun out of the shot and his ball drifted weakly to the right. It dove into a dastardly bunker short of the green, in front of a mound of fescue in the hazard.
“I don’t know, slightly down the slope on the second shot, and I just swung too fast,” he explained.
An walked alone down the 18th fairway and grimaced upon spotting his ball. He scratched his head and put his hand over his mouth – that ghastly.
An blasted out to the back of the green, over a huge mound, and wound up three-putting from 50 feet, essentially handing the match to Chung.
“I couldn’t get anything going straight or in the hole,” said An, an incoming freshman at California-Berkeley, “and he took the chances when he needed.”
Now, An’s left to ponder what could have been of this 110th U.S. Amateur, a championship at which he arrived unsure of the state of his game. He surely found it over six days on the shores of Puget Sound, even if on this afternoon he could focus only on all that was lost.