London, England: An Byeong-hun hopes his European success story will inspire other Asian players to follow in his footsteps.
An wrote his name into European Tour history in 2015, becoming the first Korean winner of the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award, while his breakthrough season also yielded another prestigious title as the Challenge Tour Graduate of the Year.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime achievement,” said An. “I worked very hard for this and played great last season. There were a lot of other good rookie players, so to win the award is very special.
“The race went down to the final day of the final event – even the last hole. It was so close and I had no idea who was going to get it.
“I’ve seen the other names who have won this award over the years and I’ve joined a list of great players. It’s great to be part of that history. I’m the first Asian to win it and hopefully it will help bring more Asian players to play on the European Tour.
“A lot of guys ask me if the European Tour is good to play on and I always say 100 per cent yes. Hopefully I will lead the way for many more.”
The 24-year-old made a significant impact early in his maiden campaign in The Race to Dubai, sealing a first European Tour title at one of its most prestigious events, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in May.
An produced scintillating golf throughout the week, but crucially on the final day when he carded a seven-under-par 65, to claim a six-shot victory and break the record for the lowest winning score with a cumulative total of 21-under 267.
In the process, the America-based Korean – more commonly known on Tour as Ben An – became only the second rookie in history to win the BMW PGA Championship.
An, who in 2009 became the youngest winner of the US Amateur Championship at the age of 17, went on to produce an impressive finish to the 2015 campaign – claiming top-four finishes in three of the four Final Series events.
That form earned him a seventh place finish in The 2015 Race to Dubai, five spots ahead of Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick, who was also in the running to win the award given to the highest-ranked European Tour debutant not already in possession of membership on an International Golf Federation-recognised professional Tour.
An’s remarkable rise through the European Tour’s developmental system was recognised by a second title, the Graduate of the Year Award, given to the highest-ranked player in The Race to Dubai to have graduated directly from the Challenge Tour the previous season.
Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of the European Tour, said: “I would like to congratulate Ben on a remarkable season which is given a fitting ending with the confirmation of him as the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year.
“The award itself has an illustrious history and includes amongst its winners Major champions Tony Jacklin, Sir Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, José María Olazábal and Martin Kaymer alongside eight-time European Tour number one Colin Montgomerie. I have no doubt that Ben will follow in their footsteps and forge a great career in the game.”