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Huh providing some answers

The soft-spoken Rookie of the Year is slowly making a name for himself on the PGA Tour

By Mark Whicker
The Orange County Register
Published: February, 2013

Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Brandt Snedeker, Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley have won the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year award.

So have Michael Clark II and Mark Carnevale.

Now it’s John Huh. The name is widely mocked but highly appropriate. You need to ask to hear his story repeated.

Huh didn’t play collegiate golf, always says he was the second-best player on his Crescenta Valley High team, and yet won the fifth PGA Tour event he entered.

He did nothing spectacularly during 2012 but wound up in the Tour Championship, which rewards only the top 30 players in FedEx Cup points.

“I’m pretty easy-going, not too serious about anything,” Huh said before this year’s Northern Trust Open when he and four other Korean players were honored at a reception. “But when you’re out there, I know when I need to be serious and concentrate. It’s working pretty good.”

There are three stages to Q-School, the mechanism to qualify for the PGA Tour that will disappear this fall. Most players with portfolios are exempt from one or two of them. Without a head start, Huh plunged into the first one and advanced by a stroke.

At the final stage he finished 27th. Only 25 would proceed, but two of them were Roberto Castro and Mark Anderson, who were already on the Tour and were just trying to advance their status. So Huh squeezed in.

He finished sixth at Torrey Pines then played at Mayakoba in Mexico, where he defeated Robert Allenby in a playoff. The victory didn’t get him into the Masters because it isn’t a “full field” event.

But he took care of that in September, when he was 27th on the FedEx list going into the BMW Championships and 29th coming out, sneaking into the Tour Championship. That gets him to Augusta.

“The playoff was just 50-50,” Huh said of his triumph at Mayakoba. “At BMW I had to play well. So I was more nervous there.”

How can anyone tell?

“It does get into my nerve. But there are two nerves. There’s one nerve where you really enjoy it, and another where you can’t handle it. So I’m trying to use that nerve that I really enjoy, so I can handle the other nerve.”

Along the way, the 22-year-old Huh has lured fans who wear question marks on their T-shirts. As he followed K.J. Choi's guiding star, other Koreans will follow him.

But Huh is really showing the way for rubber-mat, gasoline-cart golf.

Huh’s dad ran a fabric business. The ups and downs sent Huh’s family from New York to Korea to Chicago as he grew up. But when John began golfing in earnest and won a junior tournament in Japan, they moved to L.A. to help his career.

Huh thinks Justin Yoo was the best player on his high school team, but Huh was good enough to play for Cal State Northridge, where he couldn't get into school because his core courses didn't carry over.

“I had no choice but to turn pro,” he said. He was 18. The choices weren’t that good.

He played at Hansen Dam in Pacoima, where the course really is on the face of the dam, and where he picked up range balls just for the privilege of hitting them for free.

He also played mini-tour events at Brookside, also known as the Rose Bowl parking lot, where he had to put up money to get in.

As his extended family scurried to finance him, Huh went to the Korean Tour. To get on, he birdied four of his final six holes in qualifying.

Then, in 2010, he won the Shinhan Open, by two strokes over Choi. He was Rookie of the Year on that tour, and that led to Q-School.

And that led to the vase that he held a couple days prior to this year’s Northern Trust Open.

“I called up my dad (Oksik),” Huh said, smiling. “I told him, ‘We did it.’ Because it wasn’t just me.”

No, it was family and friends and all those question marks. It took some nerve.