Ben An, a rookie on the European Tour, fired an impressive bogey-free, seven-under 65, the low score on Sunday, to capture the BMW PGA Championship by six shots over Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thongchai Jaidee. He carded a 21-under total for the championship, the lowest in relation to par in the history of the tournament, beating the previous best of 19-under by Anders Hansen in 2002 and Scott Drummond in 2004.
Despite contending in his first start at the European Tour’s flagship event, An, who was playing in the final group with Francesco Molinari, looked cool and collected all day. An, who graduated from the 2014 Challenge Tour Rankings (Europe’s equivalent to the Web.com Tour), handled his nerves and the pressure like a veteran.
“It wasn’t easy,” said An, who became the first Asian player to win the event. “I was very nervous the whole day. Thank God I played well. I mean, I was hitting it well to don’t feel any nerves because I had all the confidence hitting every shot out there. I think that’s why it made it look so easy because I was playing well but in my mind it wasn’t easy.”
An harnessed his jitters by pretending he was playing in a practice round.
“(I tried) to think it’s a practice round with a lot of people out there,” said An. “Just stick to the plan and focus on every shot and not get carried away if there’s people watching me. I was nervous, I don’t know if you can tell, but I try to calm myself. Because as long as I stick to my swing and everything, I knew I can do it. So felt like a practice round, that’s what I wanted to feel.”
The secret to An’s success at Wentworth was his strong iron play.
“Iron game was great this week,” he said. “I hit a lot of greens. I think I’m first or second in greens in regulation. I was hitting it great. Didn’t miss many putts. Just overall, I was hitting it well. That’s what it was I think.”
An, who lead for most of Sunday, knew he had locked up the title after draining a birdie putt on the par-4 15th — that was when he felt like he could breathe a little bit.
“I (had) like a five- or six-shot lead and three holes to go, and I was like, okay, I think this will do it,” he said. “But before that, I wasn’t thinking about it, like there’s still a couple holes out there. As long as I hit it well today, I feel like I can do it but the birdie at 15, definitely I think that was the moment I realized it.”
An, who became the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur in 2009, spent the past several years playing on the Challenge Tour, which helped prepare him to compete at this level. He decided to try his luck on Europe’s developmental tour upon the suggestion of Peter Uihlein’s father.
“It was a great experience for me the last three years on The Challenge Tour,” said An. “It definitely helped to get me winning this event. I worked hard and I try to enjoy it, every single event. It definitely helped me out, The Challenge Tour.”
He has also been inspired by the success of American Brooks Koepka, who played the Challenge Tour in 2012 and graduated early to the European Tour after winning three events. Koepka, who won the Turkish Airlines Open last year, added to his list of victories by also capturing his first title on the PGA Tour earlier this season at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
“Well, that’s the textbook of what I wanted to do: Play on The Challenge Tour, win, and then come up to the main tour,” said An. “(Being named) Rookie of the Year would be great, but (I’m) trying to play well and then play the majors. That’s what (Brooks) did and I think that’s great, and that’s the way I want to do it.”
With this victory, An, who was previously scheduled to play in the U.S. Open qualifier at Walton Heath tomorrow, earns exemptions into the U.S. Open and the Open Championship, along with a long list of other perks. He also has the chance to move into the top 50 in the world rankings — he’s currently ranked no. 132.
“I never thought about it until someone told me after I won,” said An when asked about the career-changing ramifications of his win. “I tried to not look at those things, what the benefits I’ll get. I tried to play the golf I did today, that was my goal. The win was good, definitely, and U.S. Open and The Open is even better but I never thought about those but it’s great to play those events.”
WITH THIS WIN AND OTHER FACTS ABOUT BEN AN:
*His first European Tour International Schedule victory in his 31st European Tour evnet.
*This victory beats his previous best European Tour performance of tied fifth in the 2015 Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
*Becomes the seventh first-time winner of the 2015 European Tour season. They are: Andy Sullivan, Gary Stal, Anirban Lahiri, Trevor Fisher Jnr, Jordan Spieth, Wu Ashun and Ben An.
*Victory comes in his first appearance in the BMW PGA Championship.
*Becomes the first player to win the BMW PGA Championship on their debut since Scott Drummond in 2004.
*Follows Ken Bousfield (1955), Charlie Ward (1956), Bernard Gallacher (1969), Arnold Palmer (1975), and Scott Drummond (2004), to win the Championship on their first appearance.
*Is in his rookie season on the European Tour. Becomes the first rookie to win the BMW PGA Championship since Scott Drummond in 2004.
*Becomes only the third rookie in the history of the Championship to win, following Bernard Gallacher (1969) and Scott Drummond (2004).
*Follows Arnold Palmer, Anders Hansen and Scott Drummond as players to make the Championship their first European Tour victory.
*Graduated from the Challenge Tour rankings in 2014. Becomes only the second player to graduate from the Challenge Tour and win the Championship the following year, after Scott Drummond in 2004.
*Becomes the eighth South Korean victory in European Tour history.
*Becomes the sixth different South Korean player to win in European Tour history.
*Becomes the first South Korean victory on the European Tour since Jin Jeong (2013 ISPS HANDA Perth International).
*Becomes the 16th different Asian player to win in European Tour history.
*Becomes the second Asian player to win an official European Tour event on English soil following Isao Aoki (1983 European Open at Sunningdale. He also won the 1978 World Match Play Championship, here at Wentworth. This was then a European Tour Approved Special Event).
*Becomes the 27th different Challenge Tour graduate to win on the European Tour after graduation.
*Was born in Seoul, South Korea, and is the son of table tennis player Ahn Jae-Hyung and Jiao Zhimin, who both won medals at the 1988 Olympics.
*At the age of 14, he moved to the U.S. in 2005 to attend his coach, David Leadbetter’s, Academy in Florida.
*In 2009, at the age of 17, Ben became the youngest ever winner of the U.S. Amateur, beating Ben Martin 7&5 in a 36-hole final at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa.
*The following year he competed in the Masters and the US Open and became the first defending champion since Tiger Woods to reach the semi-finals of the US Amateur.
*He picked up his first professional win at the Rolex Trophy in Switzerland in August and ended the year with three top-five finishes in his last four events.
*Ben made his debut at last year’s Open Championship, impressing with a share of 26th place at Royal Liverpool GC.