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August 7, 2019

Byeonghun An

Jersey City, New Jersey

SHARON SHIN: We'd like to welcome Byeonghun An into the interview room here at the Northern Trust. I know it wasn't the finish you wanted last week, but an impressive performance nonetheless. I'm sure a lot of takeaways from last Sunday.

BYEONGHUN AN: Yeah, it was kind of a bonus week to be fair. I wasn't going to play a couple weeks ago but I chucked it in the last minute. It would have been nice if I won it, but just a lot of positives to take out of this week to be fair. I struggled beginning of the year with my putting but it's been a lot better recently the last couple weeks, so that was great to see to be fair. I was able to hold on in the final round. I putted pretty good compared to other final rounds beginning of this year.

It was definitely the progress I'd like to see before coming into this week and the next couple weeks. I gained more than I lost it last week, that's for sure. All I lost was the win. That's it. I gained a lot of other stuff, and that was definitely exciting to see, you know, the progress by finishing third. Would have been better to win, but it happens. You know, I can't win every week. The first win is always the hardest. Third is not bad, but hopefully the win will be here this week.

SHARON SHIN: With that finish, you climb to No. 57 in the FedExCup standings, made it to the Playoffs. How does that validate the great season you've had so far?

BYEONGHUN AN: Yeah, before the third last week, I think I was outside the Top-70 and wasn't guaranteed. A top 70 and Top-125, there's a big difference because especially the Asian Swing is the beginning of the fall season. I always wanted to play definitely the CJ Cup in Korea and the new event in Japan so my first goal is to make it in the Top-70. After a decent finish last week, definitely helps for me to get into those events. It's definitely a boost, and that's why I chucked it in. I wanted to finish better and give a final push and it worked out.

SHARON SHIN: We had some weather struggles today but you had a chance to look at the course. What are your thoughts on the course and condition?

BYEONGHUN AN: I played all 18 holes. It's a great-looking golf course. It's very unique and it's definitely not the easiest golf course we play. It's tough with a little creek here and there and hazards here. I think it will be pretty tough, because greens are rolling nicely right now, and there are little undulations here and there. It's a tricky golf course. You have to be precise with the second shot, especially, not only drivers, because like I said, there are a lot of greens because undulating greens, so you don't want to miss it in the wrong side. The view is amazing. I love the view. Every single hole of it, you can see the skylines and some of the holes you can see the Statue of Liberty. It was really cool to have the view when you're playing golf. That's like a bonus. It's a different feeling to Pebble Beach, you have ocean, and here you have skylines. It's pretty cool. It's a good golf course.

Q. You mentioned the fall schedule. Curious how much the Presidents Cup is playing on your mind?
BYEONGHUN AN: Oh, full, definitely 100 percent in my head. Even last week, it was definitely my No. 1 priority, definitely. I've still got two more weeks to push and try to get into the top eight, and if I don't get in, then I definitely have I think four more months until the picks, about three to four months, and got a lot of events between those. If I somehow didn't play the way I wanted and my miss out on the top eight, I'll definitely try to play most of the fall events and get the last push. I've been playing well and need to get this momentum going. I'm glad there's only a week off after the season finishes. I need to play more, and it's nice to have those events there so I can prove what I'm capable of. I just want to show myself that I'm definitely, you know, worth being on the team. So don't get -- that's if I don't get a top eight until after next week, so if I do, it's great, and if not, I've still got a couple more events to show my game. It's exciting.

Q. Have you had much conversation with Ernie?
BYEONGHUN AN: No, not really. I played with him -- I don't really want to talk to him about those things. If I play well, he's going to pick me. I don't need to talk my way into it. I just have to show him by playing good golf and like last week definitely helps I think. But I still have a long ways to go. This week and next week will be a big boost because they are big events and a lot of World Ranking points.

I've never really talked to him much, but he always says keep it up and I'm doing pretty good. Yesterday I saw him again and he said, "Well done last week." Those are the things we talk about. We don't talk about much, you know. He said I'm doing well and just keep it up, so that's what I'm trying to do.

Q. Still on the Presidents Cup subject. Curious to know, why have you placed getting on to the team as a top priority for you? And secondly, what is your recollection of the Presidents Cup as a young kid growing up, being a keen golfer?
BYEONGHUN AN: Why do I want to? Because I missed the last two occasions marginally. I think it was very close. First, in 2015, I believe I was like 12th in the ranking and didn't get the pick. It was so close every year. Two years ago, I was a little farther back but I thought I was close enough. But when you miss out by a little bit, it hurts. It's very disappointing and I always want to play team golf. It's fun. I played a couple times on the EurAsia Cup, it's a little different, but still kind of a team match I wanted to play. I like playing as a team and play not just for money for something. You want to play for your country, and play for the team. That's why I went to play the World Cup last year at the end of the season because I want to represent something more than myself. I think that's the beauty of team golf is you play more than for yourself. That's why I always want to play, and hopefully this time, it's my third time trying to get on the Presidents Cup team, and hopefully I can get in.

Q. What's your first recollection of the Presidents Cup as a young kid?
BYEONGHUN AN: For me, it's like a Ryder Cup, basically. Just because Ryder Cup we don't have an International Team, just basically, my eyes, they are the same thing.

Seeing Korean pros playing in it a couple times, like K.J.'s played it, Y.E.'s played it, Kyung-tae Kim's played it. I've seen team golf and the results not been there for Internationals, but it could change this year. I'm really excited to see what the result is going to be this year because we're playing in Melbourne, and hopefully I'll be part of it.

Growing up, you can see the good golfers. I think my generation is more Ernie Els when he was really good, like back in the 2000s when he played against Tiger. The things I see that gives me goosebumps when you see those videos. It's pretty cool to see them playing and that's why I think I want to be part of the team to play in The Presidents Cup because you see what -- how good do you have to be to get in the team. That's why I think I'm going to look up the Presidents Cup. That's been my No. 1 goal since last year and I definitely want to try to play it.

Q. What would it be like for you to make the Presidents Cup, and then have Tiger be a playing captain and play against him in your first Presidents Cup?
BYEONGHUN AN: If or when, if I get in -- let's think positive, if I play against Tiger, that would be cool. Like I said, what Ernie's done, I think back in 2000s, early 2000s. It will be nerve-wracking, Tiger. I played with him at the U.S. Open this year and I was really nervous. It will be a little bit more nervous because it's more the match play.

But still, when I think about it, it's very exciting to play against a player like him, especially Tiger. It will be exciting I think. I will be very nervous for sure but I don't think I will be very scared or anything. It's more of, links-style golf course I said, I mentioned when I played with him in the U.S. Open, it was my dream come true to play with him and compete with him in the U.S. Open and especially in Pebble Beach, but any tournaments you play with him is one of the dreams come true, so it's a dream. It's not a scary dream. It's actually exciting and something I look forward to, like almost every week. A couple events I saw he's playing in; okay, I want to play with him on Saturday or Sunday.

I'm very excited even thinking about playing against him, but first, get on the team first and then we'll see what happens.

Q. He said he's not guaranteed to pick himself. When you played with him in the U.S. Open, is it his aura that makes it a different experience, or is it him physically in the flesh in the pairing with you that makes it a different experience?
BYEONGHUN AN: He's not like a 7-foot guy and he's not like big and scary. Just the things I watch when I grow up. Because I started golf when I was seven, like back in 1997 when Tiger was just coming out and when I start playing golf more seriously, and you can see him playing well everywhere.

Maybe his presence, maybe, but things he's done so far in his career and what I've been watching since I was seven or eight. Those are the things that, oh, he's Tiger and he's the greatest golfer of all time. That's the thing that makes me more, I guess, heart beat, heart pumping, a bit nervous on the first tee.

When I played with him, it was really exciting I think. It was definitely fun to play with him.

Q. You spoke about your preference, you enjoy playing match play, and you won the U.S. Amateur, as well. What is it about match play that you particularly like?
BYEONGHUN AN: It's still the same golf, but -- it's a little different. You can make triple and quadruple and still loss one hole, but you can also make double and win the hole. I think it's very interesting because every single hole you play, it's different. Every hole is a new hole, and I think because I sometimes struggle with making a couple bogeys in a row, but those things don't really matter in match play. You make bogey but you forget about it because it only one hole and try not to let it affect the next hole because you only have 18 holes to play with.

To be fair, when I won, I don't know how I won; I just played decent golf and somehow beat the other guy, because back then I was 17 and I never thought about winning the U.S. Amateur.

When I play match plays recently in Austin, I struggle a little bit, because when I played well, the other guys play better than me and when I don't play well, they still play well. That kind of sucks. That's match play, I realize. That's match play and anything can happen and that's why I'm more excited to play, and if I get to play against Tiger, that will be very interesting.

Q. Going back to the Playoffs, there are four Koreans who have qualified for the Playoffs. What do you think it speaks about the standard and quality of Korean golfers right now and do you see among this current group of young Koreans on Tour now, do you see yourselves as maybe emulating what Y.E. did all those years ago in winning a major championship?
BYEONGHUN AN: It would have been nice to see more Korean players. There are definitely more Korean players who could have made it, a disappointing year, but -- so there are a couple Korean guys here, but also Kevin Na, Michael Kim, American citizens, but I see them as Korean, anyway. Counting them we have like 12 Korean players on Tour. Would have been nice to see more compete this week.

But four is still a lot I think, and I want to see more. It's good and it's really exciting to see and Sungjae has been playing well all year. He's been playing steady, and already other Korean guys playing well. But definitely I think what K.J. and Y.E. have done, they have definitely helped us open the door for us to play on the PGA TOUR. It's always tough to be the first one to come out and compete on foreign golf tours, and something we never heard of back when we started golf because back in the 80s when they played, it would be 80s or early 90s, but they decide to come over here and try and compete against the best players in the world, and then they definitely opened the door for us and realize, okay, maybe we can go over. That's what I did when I was young and came over in high school and competed in the AJGAs and came on to the PGA TOUR in 2016. That was a goal in my life because watching them, competing out here, winning events -- I want to be there one day.

Not even winning here, but playing on the PGA TOUR, that definitely opens a lot of windows I think. The young kids in Korea now watching us compete out here, I'm sure many kids will be thinking, I want to be here and I want to be on the PGA TOUR one day, and I'll really proud of what we are doing and what all the Korean players are doing these days on the PGA TOUR these days.

I'm still young, not the youngest -- Sungjae is only 20,21,22, but I'm sure there are more young kids playing golf in Korea and we want to open the door for them more and want to encourage them to come and compete out here because it's definitely the best tour in the world. That's what we want to do.

Q. Does it push you?
BYEONGHUN AN: I don't know about the push but it's fun to have them around. It's more fun than me playing on the PGA TOUR and no one around. If it was a different guy every day -- now we have -- Noh is going to come back next year and he's been my best buddy before he went to the army. It will be nice to see him come back, and the more Korean players, the better. It will be exciting to see the next few years. I'm sure more Korean players are going to come out and compete in the PGA TOUR. It's exciting.

Q. What will it take for the Korean men to gain the same kind of stature that the Korean women have back home and is the military commitment part of the challenge?
BYEONGHUN AN: Yeah, that is a challenge, definitely. You can't really compare the women's golf and the men's golf. That's purely my view of golf because golf is very -- it's very complicated. You just don't hit it far and win every event. You don't put well. There's so many variables in golf. You have to hit it far and straight, and you have to have a good short game and you have to putt well. There's so many things that you have to be good at to win.

But golf is -- it's a hard question to answer because I think men's golf is harder for us to win out on the PGA TOUR. There are so many guys what are talented and hit it far. When I watch the top players in the world like Brooks, Dustin, Rory, it's amazing when I see them on the range and what they do when they play, when they are around the greens, in trouble.

It's true that we are not as good as when women is doing, but we've done and what K.J. and Y.E. has done, I think it was harder things for them to do. Just like Tiger winning 80 events, I believe that's hard to do than back when Sam Snead won 82 events. These days mens is so competitive. You have different winners every year. You don't see a guy who wins like 12 events a year, not anymore, because we got a lot of good players and a lot of young kids coming out. You see Matt Wolff won this year, and so many good players. It's hard for us to win, not just for Koreans but for other PGA TOUR pros. I don't think we'll ever see like that many Korean men's golfers winning as much as the LPGA player does, but what we are doing now is I think unbelievable. We have a couple players in the top hundred and top 200 in the world. That's so hard. You're top 200 in the world out of you have ten millions of people playing golf. What we are doing now is quite impressive and I don't think should be comparable to the woman's because they have a different game and we have a different game.

Q. It sounds, listening to you, as if that is something back home where maybe she just expect, since the women were so successful?
BYEONGHUN AN: Definitely.

Q. Why are you guys not as successful? Is that something you do deal with?
BYEONGHUN AN: Yeah, that's what we hear all the time. You see Korean tour, like it's really sad to see from my perspective, I start to see more women's golf tournaments and than men's in Korea. Everything -- they are bigger -- I want to see the men's golf grow and I would love to see them play more events and bigger prize money, so they don't go to like Japanese. They go to Japanese Tour and Asian and European Tour to get bigger prize money, but the women, they have big prize money already. I would love to see them grow bigger, but it's something harder to do. It's something I can't change.

I used to go back and play maybe once a year back on the Korean tour. Part of me is like, I want to help them to grow bigger in Korea. Like I mentioned, I want to see the young guys come out and compete more out here, and first step is definitely we have to get the golf bigger in Korea and it's already big but I want to see more tournaments and more events and more players coming out of Korea.

I'm still 27, so it's hard for me to change these things. But I'm sure me and other Korean guys playing PGA TOUR, that will definitely help them to grow bigger golf in Korea, but like I said, it's so hard to compare the women's golf and men's golf in Korea. It's so weird. You don't see it in any other countries in the world. It's something that's really unique but also quite sad from the men's point of view to not only have like 14, 15 events a year, that's really sad. It's definitely things that I always heard K.J. wants to change and that's something that we have to do, as well, it's not just you change overnight. We'll see what happens in a couple years. Hopefully we can win a couple more and there might be more of a boom in Korea, so we'll see.

SHARON SHIN: Thank you for your time and good luck this week.

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