Northwestern golfer Eric Chun knows what it's like to have success at the Asian Amateur Golf Championship.
November 2009, Chun was the runner-up at the tournament's inauguration, which
earned him the right to qualify for the 2010 British Open at the International
Final Qualifying Stage. There, the senior shot rounds of 67-71 and sank a
6-foot birdie putt on the final hole to land a spot in his first Major
Championship at legendary St. Andrews.
"It was the best year to make it to the British Open because it was at St. Andrews, where golf started," said Chun. "There's so much history behind it, so many stories. I grew up watching Tiger Woods win the 2000 British Open at Saint Andrews. I stood on the first tee and I had chills all over. That's why I started golf. While you're practicing you think, "This is to win the Masters."
He also knows what it feels like to fall short. After his stellar performance in 2009, Chun struggled on the course at last year's Asian Amateur Championship and returned home from Japan empty-handed.
But this year, he has another shot. Chun will play in what could be his final Asian Amateur Championship Sept. 29-Oct. 2 at The Singapore Island Country Club to compete for the chance to return to the British Open and also earn a berth at the 2012 Masters. Sponsored jointly by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, the Masters Tournament and the Royal & Ancient, the Asian Amateur winner receives an invitation to the Masters while the champion and runner(s)-up earn spots at The British Open Championship's International Final Qualifying (IFQ) -- Asia.
"I'm just excited about going back," said Chun. "I want to enjoy it. It's really a privilege to be able to do something like this -- not just the Asian Amateur but playing college golf -- because not many people in the world have the opportunity to do it."
Chun was born in Korea and raised in Malaysia, where he started following his father to the range at age seven. At 10, he started getting serious about his game; every minute that he wasn't in school, he was playing golf. He began heading out to the range before sunset and practicing for three hours after school instead of playing soccer with friends in the schoolyard. With his father as his coach, his regimen became all-consuming, sometimes coming home simply to eat dinner before returning to the range until bedtime.
"When I was thirteen I was playing in a club tournament and it was the last hole, par five, and there was water down the left all the way to the green. And I hit a shot and pulled it in the water and my dad was watching. Then I dropped and pulled it again in the water," said Chun. "I was looking around in the water, and my dad came running and pushed me in the water and said we were going home."
It was that type of intensity that kept Chun disciplined throughout junior high and high school. "Some things he did were unreasonable," said Chun, "but his intentions were always good... Most Americans don't understand the intensity of Eastern parents. [Our parents believe] that we have it better than they did, and they want us to take advantage of it."
As he continued to develop his game, a trip to the United States was planned when he was a high school junior in hopes of pursuing college golf in America. He and his father stayed with an aunt in Chicago during their month-long stay and in turn, Chun began to be recruited by several Big Ten schools. When Northwestern came knocking and he met the Wildcat coaching staff, he knew it was where he wanted to be.
Chun acclimated immediately, winning the Big Ten individual championship in 2009 -- the first freshman to do so since Illinois' Steve Stricker in 1986. Once Big Ten season is over in the spring, he continues to play amateur tournaments throughout the summer and fall, and the Asian Amateur will be his fifth this year since June. He plans to turn professional after he graduates at the end of the 2011-12 season, but not before he has one last shot at amateur competition. He's been preparing for next week's tournament much more this year, convinced that last year's finish was directly related to a lack of preparation.
"I have control over the process," said Chun. "I just have to keep working hard, stay in the moment, know that I can't win the tournament on the first day, stay patient, and accept the mistakes that I make well. I feel like my game's good enough, I just need to trust in it and execute it."
Chun says his father is always in the back of his mind, constantly keeping him accountable to practice and prepare. He didn't always understand his father's methods early on but now sees their relationship as a positive. His father shaped his game and to this day, they remain extremely close. As he's prepared for what could be his final Asian Amateur, he says his style of play has changed since his freshman year. He's become focused on a more all-encompassing attitude of playing well rather than simply just swinging well.
"Lately when I play in tournaments and wear black on black, I tell my coach that it's going to be a funeral," said Chun. "I'm not meaning any violence by it. It's just a mentality to play dominant, play big and play great without fear."
With that mentality, Chun stands poised to repeat the success he had two years ago. He's already tasted the prize that comes with a top finish; the memory of playing a hole with Tiger Woods during a practice round at the 2010 British Open still burns fresh in his mind. He's done the preparation. Perhaps all that is left to do now is a dark load of laundry.