Three years ago, Jae Han Eric Chun came to the United States in search of top-notch golf tournaments and the strongest competition. This week, Eric is in Scotland, looking for the same thing.
In each case, he found what he was looking for. In 2007, Eric tested himself in the AJGA and became a first-team Rolex Junior All-American. In the process, he secured a scholarship to Northwestern University and just completed his sophomore year.
Now, Eric finds himself in Scotland, preparing to take on the worlds best players at the revered St. Andrews. It is just another step on a marvelous journey in which the dreams of a young golfer have been fulfilled time and again, only to be replaced with larger ones.
Born in Korea, Eric did not stay there for long. At age four, he moved to Malaysia, where he took up golf and began playing tournaments. For 10 years, Malaysia was his home and it was during that time that he was inspired by one of modern golfs most dominating performances. That eight-shot victory by Tiger Woods one decade ago at St. Andrews is fresh on his mind as he begins play at the 2010 Open Championship.
To play there is unreal, because I grew up watching Tigers win at St. Andrews in 2000. But its something I only watched on television, so to be able to play there at an early stage in my career, it will be a good experience to see where I stand among those guys.
Eric has traveled the world on his journey to St. Andrews, although this is his first time in Europe. After 10 years in Malaysia, Eric moved to Australia for two years, then back to South Korea. In 2007, Erics golf game had progressed incredibly well and a trip to the United States was planned.
Eric arrived in North Carolina for the AJGAs FootJoy Invitational in June of 2007, and with expectations running high, he shot a disappointing 76-77 and missed the cut by six.
It was discouraging missing the cut. I was shocked, but I knew I was good enough to compete.
A trip to the Midwest proved Erics words to be true. At the prestigious Western Junior Championship in Iowa the following week, he grabbed some attention with a tie for eighth.
Three weeks later, Eric completed a sweep of the AJGAs Michigan tournaments, winning a pair of titles at the Coca-Cola Junior Championship at Boyne Highlands and the Randy Wise Junior Open. From there, it was on to Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida, where he placed eighth at the HP Boys Championship. The next week, playing in his fourth straight and final AJGA event, Eric tied for sixth at the Midwest Junior Players Championship.
His time with the AJGA was complete and his mission was accomplished.
My dad and I came over with plans of going to college, and I wanted to make a good impression on college coaches, Eric said. Fortunately I played well enough to win and have some top-10 finishes.
Interest from college coaches grew furiously after his string of success, although Eric had taken a liking to the Midwest and wanted to stay there. He found the academics he desired and the coaches he liked at Northwestern University. In fact, his assistant coach, Steve Bailey, a former AJGA tournament director, will be with Eric every step of the way at St. Andrews.
When I first made it to the British Open, I got a lot of messages from people who wanted to be my caddy, Eric said. But since Im not going there to win money, I thought of the experience ahead and who I wanted to share it with. I also wanted someone who will help me play better. I am really comfortable around Steve. Hes been a friend and a coach at the same time. I have to be confident and comfortable on the course and I think Steve helps me do that.
With coaches he can trust, Erics success in college has been steady. In 2009, he won the Big Ten individual championship, the first freshman to accomplish the feat since Steve Stricker in 1986. During his sophomore year, he traveled to China, where he was runner-up at the Asian Amateur Championship. That finish earned him a spot in the International Final Qualifying Stage back in Malaysia where he spent his childhood. He even had the good fortune of playing a course he knew - Saujana Golf & Country Club.
Growing up in Malaysia, I played that course a lot, so it was like going back home for me. I played a couple tournaments there and I watched Vijay Singh win the Malaysian Open there when I was a kid.
Eric did not waste the opportunity. Playing for four spots, he shot 67-71, sinking a six-foot birdie putt on the final hole to claim the fourth and final berth in the 2010 British Open.
Despite his long run of success, Eric is keeping his expectations at St. Andrews in check, focusing more on the experience than how he finishes.
It will be a good indicator of where I am. My goal is to play the best I can play; just go there and have a good experience, have a lot of fun and learn a lot of things.
Eric also expects to complete his college education at Northwestern, double-majoring in Communications and Religion, while honing his golf game.
I will keep testing myself in the professional world. Im planning on turning professional, but my philosophy is that Ill turn professional when Im good enough. Until then, Ill work more on my game.
Eric proved to be a quick study in junior golf and college golf. If his education in professional golf is the same, this trip to St. Andrews wont be his last, but the next one might earn him a nice paycheck.