PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Rookie John Huh is a terrific argument for leaving PGA Tour Qualifying School just the way it is.
He is the dream.
Or, at least, he embodies the dream.
If you like the romantic notion of Q-School, the idea that a player can emerge from practically nowhere and win fame and fortune almost overnight, you ought to be rooting for Huh to win The Players Championship this week.
With the PGA Tour deep into plans to scrap Q-School as we know it, there would be something almost poetic about Huh winning this week. After improbably advancing through all three stages of Q-School last fall to earn his PGA Tour card, Huh broke through to win the Mayakoba Golf Clasic in his fifth start this season.
There would be irony in a player with his story winning the PGA Tour’s flagship event.
Yeah, it’s not likely. No rookie has won The Players since it began in 1974, but then again, the 20-year-old Huh is making his name defying convention.
Huh – the pronunciation rhymes with duh – didn’t play the American Junior Golf Association circuit growing up in the Los Angeles area. A son to Korean-born parents, Huh and his family couldn’t really afford it. His father, Ok, saw his family business fail, and so he and his wife, Sook, went to work in various jobs.
After taking up the game at 12 or so, Huh didn’t exactly light the world on fire as a junior.
He wasn’t the best player for his high school team at Crescenta Valley High School in Los Angeles County. He wasn’t even the best junior at the local muni, Hansen Dam Golf Course in the San Fernando Valley.
“There were two or three kids there that I thought would go on to have professional careers, but John definitely wasn’t one of them,” said Zeke Salas, an assistant professional there at the time.
Salas is Huh’s caddie today. He said Huh’s talent isn’t what brought them together. It was Huh's attitude.
“When you come from nothing, you really expect nothing,” Salas said.
You expect to earn whatever you get.
“I remember working the range by myself, and I needed some help because we were out of baskets for the balls,” Salas said. “I asked a couple of the kids there if they would help me gather up the baskets. They said they couldn’t, they were working on their games. John took the time to help. I learned a lot about him doing that. He has a good heart. He is a good kid.”
Salas said those more gifted juniors at Hansen Dam had a number of advantages on Huh, except one, which proved to be the difference.
“Those other kids were very talented, but when they were going to the movies and the mall, John was at the course, hitting balls or playing,” Salas said. “He made it with dedication and hard work.”
Huh wanted to go to California State-Northridge, but he was denied entry when a review of transcripts showed he was one course short in core curriculum requirements for entries.
“It was a difficult situation,” Huh said. “I was like, ‘Wow, maybe this is a sign I shouldn’t be playing golf.’ I thought about quitting.”
Instead, Huh turned pro and went to Korean PGA Tour school. He made it through and played three seasons there, winning the Shinhan Donghae Open in 2010 with K.J. Choi in the field.
Huh said the victory fueled his confidence, his desire to try the PGA Tour. He credits the Korean Tour for making him the player he is today.
A relatively short hitter, Huh says his driver is his strength, so are his long irons. He isn’t a power player, but he’s accurate. He ranks 124th on the PGA Tour in driving distance and 14th in driving accuracy.
If determination was measured, he would be a top-10 player.
So what’s he think of the PGA Tour’s proposal to revamp Q-School and make it the entry way to the Nationwide Tour?
“That’s a tough question to ask,” Huh said. “I’m sure the PGA Tour knows more than me. I did go through all three stages, and I can tell you it was a dream come true making it, but it’s hard to comment on that. I’m pretty sure, if you’re good enough, you make it through whatever they decide it takes to make it to the PGA Tour.”
That’s the attitude that got him into his first Players.