“Never Give a Inch.” So says the iconic Henry Stamper, patriarch of the Oregon logging family in Ken Kesey’s seminal novel, “Sometimes a Great Notion.” In those four words he summed up the tenacious spirit that frequently expresses itself in military heroes, Western settlers and now, a young PGA Tour player named John Huh.
Born in New York City to Korean parents, the family moved to South Korea shortly after his birth and he lived there for 12 years. Then on to Chicago for 3 and then Los Angeles. He attended Cal State, Northridge and turned pro in 2008. He played a couple of years on the Korean Tour and the OneAsia Tour and won his Tour card in the 2011 Q-School. He finished T27 and like Colt Knost, earned his card because of the top 25 Nationwide graduates in the field who were trying to improve their 2012 status. He shot a 4-under 68 on the final windy day to lock it up.
I first became aware of him at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Not because of his play but because my work station in the media room was next to a photographer who raved about Huh all week long. He even tweeted about him. Okay, Felix, you were right. And we found out for sure just three weeks after Phoenix when Huh won the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Riviera Maya, Mexico, just south of Cancun.
Mayakoba was an “opposite field” event while the top 64 players in the world were playing in the Accenture Match Play in Tucson. And what was so noteworthy about Huh’s win is that he won it in a playoff. And not just any playoff, an eight-hole playoff against Tour veteran, Robert Allenby. Huh shot 8-under 63 to get into the playoff and Allenby made double bogey on 18 in regulation to join him. Huh made eight straight pars in the playoff to win and match the second longest playoff in PGA Tour history. It was only his fifth tournament.
Last Sunday he managed a T2 with Matt Every at the Valero Texas Open which Ben Curtis won. That was pretty impressive in and of itself, but even more so when you find out that he was 8-over par after the first nine holes of the tournament:
Q: Did you ever imagine that you would be sitting in here right now having finished tied for 2nd at the Valero Texas Open?
Absolutely not. You know, after 9 holes I was 8 over, I believe, and it was so bad, I was spinning over there after 9 holes. [And that was after a birdie on 9; he actually got to 9-over through 8.]
Q: Obvious question is, what happened? What changed?
You know, first hole I hit a good drive, good second shot, give myself a short shot and, you know, I wasn’t really ready for this golf course at that point because I only had a one round to go. So, I guess I can blame that, I didn’t play practice — I did but I didn’t know the golf course too well.
And this is where that tenacity of the mythical Henry Stamper comes in. He actually felt like quitting at the point; just packing it in and heading down the road to New Orleans.
Q. John, I mean golfers look at what happened but big picture, you got to be really proud of yourself. You didn’t give up, you didn’t cash it in. I mean you kept fighting.
Yeah. After 3rd hole I was 4-over – I’m sorry, I was 5-over after 3rd hole first round and I was actually going to withdraw but I telling myself, “Don’t give up, you got a lot of golf left” and here I am.
Q. Was withdrawal – were you thinking about it because you weren’t playing well?
No, because my wrist was kind of hurt and I was getting ready for this tournament and, unfortunately, the number wasn’t that great.
And this following answer explains his mindset that made that possible. It was in response to some disappointing lip-out putts in the final round, suggesting that that mindset was there all along:
Q. Are you frustrated at all just the fact that you were – you had it in the cup a couple times, just didn’t fall for you?
Little bit but, you know, that how golf is. You don’t really do that all the time, you know. Sometimes you make a mistake, sometimes you make a putt. You have to move on, you know [My emphasis].
So this is a young man who bears watching. Like so many of the young players anymore, he’s come to the Tour fully prepared to contend. He also had a T6 in San Diego, just his second Tour event.
And our understanding of him deepens when we discover that his favorite quote is “The pain of sacrifice is nothing compared to the pain of regret.”