Showing just how diverse the world of golf has gotten over the past 20 years or so, the 2015 Rookie of the Year on the European Tour isn’t European at all.
Byeong-Hun An, a native of South Korea, won the award on Friday after a season that included a win at the BMW PGA Championship and top-five finishes at three of the Final series tournaments, an achievement that got him all the way to No. 7 in the final Race to Dubai standings.
“It’s great to be part of that history,” said the 24-year-old An. “I’m the first Asian to win it, and hopefully it will help bring more Asian players to play on the European Tour.”
The competition for the award was as thick as it’s ever been, with An edging out Anirban Lahiri of India and Matthew Fitzpatrick of England.
An came out blazing to start the 2015 season, finishing 22nd at the Alfred Dunhill Championship; 12th at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship; fifth at the Qatar Masters; 13th at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic; and seventh at the Joburg Open.
He recorded his first career win at the BMW PGA Championship, blazing his way to a 21-under 71-64-67-65 – 267 winning the event by six strokes. He wouldn’t have another top 10 finish until taking fourth at the Turkish Airlines Open in early November, finishing fourth at 19-under, three strokes off the lead.
He followed that up with a tie for 19th at the WGC-HSBC Champions, then third at the BMW Masters – missing a playoff by one stroke – and fourth at the World Tour Championship.
Lahiri was the hottest player on the European Tour early in the season, winning the Maybank Malaysian Open and the Hero Indian Open in his first four weeks of play.
He tied for 30th at the Open Championship, then was strong down the stretch with fifth-place finishes at the Omega European Masters and PGA Championship, and a tie for seventh at the UBS Hong Kong Open.
Fitzpatrick, who just recently turned 21, delivered on the hype that has been associated with his name for a while, despite having just one Top 20 finish in his first 13 events of the year.
He began rounding into form around the time of the Irish Open, where he finished tied for eighth, and had three top three finishes over the next two months before breaking through with a win at the British Masters, shooting a 64-69-68-68 – 269 to edge Soren Kjeldsen by two strokes at 15-under.
He added three more top 10 finishes the rest of the year, including two in the Final Series.