GREENWICH, CONNECTICUT | Golf was not a whole lot of fun for Andrew Yun last summer. To be sure, the season began pretty well for the Stanford University student, who had just completed his freshman year. “But I started getting frustrated with myself, and my game suffered,” he says. “I didn’t have any problems when I played well. But I let every little thing get to me when I didn’t.”
Things came to a head when the 20-year-old Tacoma, Wash., native tried to qualify for last year’s U.S. Amateur, which was taking place at Chambers Bay, just down the road from his hometown.
“I really wanted to make it, so I could compete in front of my friends and family, but I didn’t play well all day,” he recalls. “Still, I only needed a birdie on the last hole to get in. But I got a bad break and made triple (bogey) instead. I thought a lot about it afterwards and realized I needed to change my mental approach. I needed to be better emotionally and spiritually balanced. I needed to always be positive no matter how I was playing if I wanted to play at the highest possible level.”
Yun says it all came down to changing his attitude, and that has led to real changes in results. In fact, the future sociology major has gone from being just another player on the strong Stanford squad to one of the best college players in the country, winning his first intercollegiate event (Prestige at PGA West) last year, earning 2011 Division I first team All-American honors, rising to the top five of the World Amateur Golf Ranking and putting himself very much in the running for a spot on this year’s Walker Cup team. A year ago, Yun was No. 131 in the world rankings.
Yun showed just how far he has come with his new attitude at the 15th annual Palmer Cup matches held last week at the Stanwich Club in Greenwich, Conn. He and fellow All-American Bank Vongvanij won their foursomes and four-ball matches the first day of the event, which pits elite collegians from the U.S. and Europe against each other.
Then, Yun romped in his singles match against Scotland’s Nick MacAndrew, 7 and 6, the following morning. And on the final day, he served as his team’s anchor, besting Pontus Widegren of Sweden (and UCLA) 1-up to secure a U.S. victory, 13-11.
Yun’s performance caught the attention of Walker Cup captain Jim Holtgrieve, who had come to Stanwich to check out prospective players for his team. And it was Yun’s attitude that seemed to impress Holtgrieve the most. “Andrew has very good composure on the course,” the captain says. “I like his focus, his commitment and his calmness out there.”
Yun took up golf when he was 7 years old and got so good as a junior player that his family moved to Arizona so he could concentrate on his game. He credits his parents, Paul and Gloria, who used to run convenience stores and gas stations in Washington but now manage a hotel in Mesa, Ariz., with helping him build that better attitude. His older sisters, Anna and Christy, too.
“Part of it is also a matter of my being older and more used to being in college,” says the Stanford sophomore, who turned in his last paper of this school year the night after winning his first two Palmer Cup matches. “It took a while my first year in college to learn how to handle things on my own and manage my time. Once I did, things got a little easier.”
Yun also drew from some guidance from his pastor, who stressed the need to be spiritually and mentally strong if he wanted to be a good player. “No matter how good you are physically, you have to have the spiritual and mental strength if you want to play your best,” says Yun, who is leaving this week for an eight-day church mission trip to Mumbai, India, where he will do “a little construction and a little evangelizing.”
For the long term, Yun hopes to make a career as a professional golfer once he graduates from Stanford. Short term, his primary goal is to make Holtgrieve’s Walker Cup squad, and Yun is going to spend much of his summer trying to do that.
“I’ll play at the (U.S. Amateur) Public Links championship as well as the Players and Southern Amateurs,” he says. “I also have an exemption as a first team All-American to play in the Nationwide Tour event at Ohio State later this summer.”
He says he is looking forward to it all because golf is fun again. “And you play your best when you have fun,” Yun adds. “You have to focus, of course. But you have to have fun, too, and not let the bad things bother you.”