Just say Noh: A guide to the young Koreans

Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa isn’t the only teenage sensation from Asia. Through 36 holes of the PGA Championship, 19-year-old Seung-yul Noh of South Korea is tied for fifth at 5-under 139 and has impressed observers with his game and his cool demeanor. Ishikawa missed the cut. At the British Open, it was 20-year-old amateur Jin Jeong who made news, finishing tied for 14th.

In fact, there are so many young Koreans showing great promise that it’s hard to keep them apart. Within the past two years, two of them have become the youngest players to win the U.S. Amateur, two have become the youngest winners on the European Tour, and one has become the first Asian to win the British Amateur. There’s a good chance that at least a couple of them will follow in the footsteps of K.J. Choi and Y.E. Yang and have success on the PGA Tour, maybe even win a major. Here’s a quick guide:

Seung-yul Noh, age 19. Won the Malaysian Open, jointly sponsored by the European Tour and Asian Tour, in March at the age of 18 (turned 19 in May), becoming the second youngest to win on the European Tour. Won the 2005 Korean Amateur at 14. Finished third in two Asian Tour events at 15, scored his first Asian Tour victory at 17. Ranked 108th in the world. Was paired with John Daly in the first two rounds of the British Open. Daly said he couldn’t pronounce his name; we hope he didn’t mean his surname. A writer commented that apparently Daly hasn’t learned to just say “Noh.” Said on Friday that he planned to be “fearless” in the last two rounds of the PGA, though shaky translation prevented much more from coming through. Said you can call him S.Y. Going the initial route is a good move, as K.J. (Kyoung-ju) Choi has shown.

Kyung-tae Kim, age 23. Also made the cut at the PGA Championship, shooting 70-72 for T27th. Won on the Asian Tour in 2007 and on the Japan Tour in 2010, the latter victory helping him to a current world ranking of 61st. Made the cut at the British Open. Won two Korean Tour events as an amateur, was such a promising player that he was exempted from national service by the government.

Jin Jeong, age 20. Showed an affinity for links golf, becoming the first Asian winner of the British Amateur in June and then finishing in the top 15 in the British Open. Has lived in Melbourne, Australia, for the last four years and hopes to get his citizenship there. A decision will be made shortly whether he will represent Australia or Korea in amateur golf. Plans to remain an amateur so he can use his exemption into the Masters next April.

Danny Lee, age 20. Became the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur in 2008 when he captured the title a month after his 18th birthday. Stamped himself as a future star not only with the victory, but with the way he did it, with under-par scoring at Pinehurst No. 2 a week after he finished in the top 20 in the Wyndham Championship on the PGA Tour. Playing out of New Zealand, where he had moved a couple of years before, he turned pro and quickly won the European Tour’s Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia in January 2009, becoming at 18 the youngest to win on the European Tour. That earned him a European Tour card, but he had his heart set on conquering America. Using sponsor exemptions in 2009, he finished tied for seventh at the AT&T National and tied for 13th at the Byron Nelson but in 12 tournaments fell short of the earnings required for a Tour card. Failed to make it through the first stage of Q-School. Has struggled on the European Tour this year, making eight of 18 cuts and ranking 158th on the Order of Merit. Has been through several swing coaches since turning pro, and has slipped to 307th in the world ranking.

Byeong-hun An, age 18. Surpassed Lee by becoming the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur in 2009, a few weeks before his 18th birthday. Moved to Florida at age 14 to attend the David Leadbetter Academy, is currently a high school senior at Bradenton Prep in Florida. Turns 19 in September, which is when he will start at the University of California. Parents were both Olympic medalists in table tennis.

Chang-won Han, age 18. Won the inaugural Asian Amateur last fall a few days before his 18th birthday, his 276 total good for a five-stroke margin. That got him into the 2010 Masters, where he and An both played as 18-year-olds.

Lion Kim, age 21.Became the first Korean-born U.S. Public Links champion this summer. Moved with his parents to the U.S. when he was less than a year old, and is a rising senior at the University of Michigan. Given name is Jun-min, parents registered him as “Lion” when he started playing junior tournaments because it would be easier to remember.

Eric Chun, age 20. Runner-up in the inaugural Asian Amateur and a rising junior at Northwestern University. First player since Steve Stricker in 1986 to win the Big Ten individual title as a freshman. Qualified for the 2010 British Open.

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