Around lunchtime at Royal St George’s, during the final round of the 2011 Open Championship, most of the attention was directed towards the preparations of Darren Clarke, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler – and towards the eccentric stretching routine of Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez.
The calm was laced with anticipation.
But just a stone’s throw from the practice range, on the 18th fairway, the atmosphere was in sharp contrast. The grandstands were virtually empty, the only spectators were passers-by heading out into the heart of this imposing links, and as South Korea’s Jung-Gon Hwang completed his fourth round, merely modest applause fluttered across the home green.
Spare a thought for young Hwang though, a 19-year-old golfer given the task of leading out the field this morning, following an 83 yesterday, 13 over par, which left him on the very floor of the leaderboard.
With 71 golfers in the field for the weekend, Hwang was Sunday’s odd-man-out, but he wisely took up the option of playing with a ‘marker’ – a player brought in to keep Hwang’s score – the honour of which fell to Michael Brooks, the son of Royal St George’s head pro Andrew Brooks, and himself a club professional and a Walker Cup team-mate of Justin Rose in 1997. Hwang’s English extends as far as “Hello” and “Thank you”, and Brooks admits his Korean is a bit rusty, so conversation was not a feature of the fourth round’s opening act.
Hwang’s mojo had long departed before today’s round, after a beautifully composed start to his Open debut. In the first round – his first ever competitive round of golf outside South Korea and Japan – he shot 68, two under par, to place his name near the top of the leaderboard at the close of
the first day, three shots behind Thomas Bjorn and Tom Lewis.
Despite disappointing scoring since then – Hwang admitted his distinctive black-rimmed glasses became a problem in the rain – he is a name to look out for in the future. This is a golfer who swung a club for the very first time only six years ago, at the age of 13, and so evident was his talent that
Hwang was soon enrolled at the Golf Academy of Korea.
Hwang’s remarkable progress led him to run professional in 2009 at the age of 15, and he qualified for the Japan Tour for 2011. It had not been an easy transition to full-time Tour golf through – with a run of five missed cuts preceding the Gate Way Mizuno tournament three weeks ago. The Mizuno doubles up as a Japan Tour event and Open qualifier, and Hwang went out and won it – to earn the best part of US $250,000 and a place in The Open.
On Sunday Hwang shot 79 to Brooks’ 72, but that is immaterial. Don’t expect Hwang to prop up the field next time.
Article courtesy of Mercedes-Benz, patron of the Open Championship