PGA Tour stars note Huh’s work ethic
Six years ago, a PGA Tour rookie turned heads when he strutted on the range with an attitude and an oversized diamond-studded belt buckle.
Tiger Woods took one look at Anthony Kim’s “AK” bling and asked him, in colorful language, what he was thinking.
“Nike doesn’t make anything with my name on it . . . yet,” Kim fired back.
Woods laughed, but more at the cocky rookie than with him.
Woods is the ultimate meritocrat when it comes to golf.
He frowns upon players — such as Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter — who he thinks haven’t earned the right to saunter around like peacocks.
Woods believes hard work trumps natural talent, and so it was not surprising in March, at the Honda Classic, that Woods sought out another Korean-American, Johnny Huh, to congratulate him on winning in the fifth start of his PGA Tour career.
The 21-year-old Huh, who went eight extra holes at Mayakoba to beat veteran Robert Allenby in a playoff, is a real-life golf Cinderella story.
Born in New York to South Korean parents, he spent most of his childhood in Seoul before his parents moved to Chicago. They moved again, to Los Angeles, when they saw promise in their son’s golf game.
But Huh wasn’t even the best player on his high school team.
“I was decent,” he says.
Unlike Kim, who was a can’t-miss prospect also out of Los Angeles — ultimately going to the University of Oklahoma, where he was all-everything — Huh was lightly recruited by colleges.
He was given a chance by commuter school Cal State Northridge but fell two classes short of eligibility, prompting him to turn professional out of high school.
It was a reach to many, even to Zeke Salas, who’s now his caddie but then was the pro at Hansen Dam, the run-down municipal course where Huh practiced.
Huh was the anti-AK in that he didn’t really do anything special but, unlike Kim — who lives an "Entourage" lifestyle — was humble and had an appetite for hard work.
He returned to Korea to play and, at the age of 19, found himself up against his hero, KJ Choi, in Choi’s tournament, the Shinhan Donghae Open.
When Choi, the heavy favorite, made a mistake down the stretch, Huh didn’t flinch and calmly won.
The $150,000 prize money helped, but not as much as the spiritual boost he got from proving to himself that he had what it took to succeed.
Huh returned to the US last year and went through every stage of grueling Q-school. He became the last player to earn his card, and he hasn’t looked back since.
In 11 starts, he has three top-10 finishes, including the win in Mexico, and has earned $1.7 million. But it was his tie for second on Sunday at the Valero Texas Open at San Antonio that was, perhaps, most instructive.
Huh was 9 over par after only eight holes.
“I was actually going to withdraw, but I kept telling myself, ‘Don’t give up, you got a lot of golf left,’” he said. “And here I am.”
Huh went 16 under the rest of the way, making only one bogey in his final 64 holes on a brutally penal golf course.
Meanwhile, Kim was 8 over par through 14 holes of his opening round and withdrew in San Antonio. It was later reported he strained a tendon in his right elbow. He also has pulled out of the Zurich Classic this week in New Orleans.
The Texas Open was Kim’s second straight WD, and he now has as many of those as he has made cuts this season.
He was also disqualified at Riviera for signing an incorrect scorecard, though he struggled to break 80 in both rounds and would have missed the cut, anyway.
Kim has blamed injuries for much of his problems in the past. He didn’t do so in an interview at Bay Hill.
“I tell you what, it’s not from the injury,” he said last month. “I have no pain. I haven’t had pain in a long time. More people have been saying that I have pain without knowing. But I had so many bad habits.”
He was speaking about his swing — especially with the driver, given that he can’t find the short grass anymore — but could easily have been talking more broadly.
Huh, meanwhile, is being encouraged to wear belt buckles featuring a big question mark, which has become his call sign.
He’s thinking about it but concedes that it’s not really his style.