Byeong Hun An has written his name into The European Tour history books once again, becoming the first Korean winner of the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award, while his breakthrough 2015 season also yielded another prestigious title as the Challenge Tour Graduate of the Year.
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 par 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.
Much like American Brooks Koepka last year, An’s remarkable rise through The European Tour’s developmental system was recognised by a second prestigious 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.
“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 one hundred per cent yes. Hopefully I will lead the way for many more.”
On receiving the Challenge Tour Graduate of the Year award, An added: “If I hadn’t played on the Challenge Tour I don’t think I could’ve won at Wentworth and had the success I had last season.
“It prepares you for the big events and there are so many great players and great courses on the Challenge Tour. It definitely improved my game over the three years and got me well prepared for my rookie season on the main Tour.”
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.”
Alain de Soultrait, Director of the European Challenge Tour, said: “At the Challenge Tour, we are proud to count Ben An as a former graduate and it is with immense pleasure that I congratulate him on winning these accolades.
“Ben spent three years honing his game and building his confidence on the European Challenge Tour, and it was always clear to anyone who observed him play that he was destined for great things in the game.
“Winning one of our own most prestigious events in 2014, the ROLEX Trophy, set Ben on the road to the top and his meteoric success is further proof that the Challenge Tour system continues to grow and develop as the best place for young up and coming players to prepare for the highest echelons of world golf.”
Fitzpatrick, a fellow former US Amateur Champion, was the closest challenger in an enthralling race to be crowned Rookie of the Year.
The 21 year old, who earned his path to the top tier through the Qualifying School after a spell on the Challenge Tour, also claimed a maiden title of his own on English soil in 2015, the British Masters supported by Sky Sports.
That victory, along with seven further top five finishes including one at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, earned the Sheffield player a 12th place finish in The Race to Dubai.
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