Hannah Suh had never seen her little brother Justin so happy, and she had never felt more proud.
The siblings spent most of their childhood on a golf course in San Jose and spent countless hours working on their game.
Eventually they relied on competitions among themselves to make things more interesting.
Push-ups became their go-to stake.
“I would beat him all the time,” Hannah said.
But Justin, three years younger, never relented. He wanted to defeat his sister and continued to agree to the bet, despite the probable outcome.
“He practiced every day to try to beat Hannah,” their father, Duk Suh, said.
One day, they upped the ante from a few push-ups to 50.
That’s when Justin won for the first time.
“I think that’s why he got so good and I got so good,” Hannah said. “We were just playing games and being really competitive and trying to beat each other and that allowed us to grow and just improve our golf game.”
Justin is on his way to one of the best seasons in USC history.
He has won four of nine events as a junior and is averaging 68.69 strokes in 26 rounds. He is Golfweek’s No. 2-ranked player in the nation going into the Pac-12 Conference championship tournament Monday hosted by USC at Rolling Hills Country Club in Rolling Hills Estates.
“He has a real serious approach to this tournament,” USC coach Chris Zambri said. “He does a good job preparing for everything but he knows this one is more important than the previous ones and he’s probably ramped up a little bit as far as trying to make sure he’s ready.”
The tournament also features No. 1-ranked Collin Morikawa from California and No. 3 Norman Xiong from Oregon. Morikawa is a graduate of La Cañada High.
“I’m not going out there just to beat those guys but it is in the mind-set that you are playing against the guy who just took over the spot that I was in,” said Suh, who was ranked No. 1 for much of the season. “They want to go out there and beat me, I want to go out there and beat them, but you really just want to beat the field.”
Justin began golfing when he was 3.
Duk played golf every day and would take his children along. Eventually, Hannah and Justin would get dropped off to play on their own for the day.
From the outset, Duk and Hynn Suh favored Hannah to make a career of the sport.
“I was always in the back,” Justin said. “I was always watching her win these tournaments and I was trying to reach the attention of my parents.”
Hannah played four years at Cal before calling it a career. Despite their competitive nature, Justin said it was Hannah who helped inspire his career.
“She was definitely my idol growing up because she was doing so well in these junior tournaments,” Justin said. “So I was able to learn from her and see what she did so great.”
It didn’t take long for Justin to win. He began playing in U.S. events when he was 6 and at 7 he shot a 72.
“He was just a little squirt going out there and killing it,” Hannah said.
Justin qualified four consecutive times for the USGA Junior Amateur, a feat also accomplished by Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, but few others.
He accepted a scholarship to USC by the end of his freshman year at Evergreen Valley High.
“When we recruit somebody really young we want to see them playing a level that is already as high as somebody we would recruit as a junior,” Zambri said. “Justin was showing that he had the ability to do that.”
After enduring “traumatizing” tournaments early in his freshman season at USC — Suh said he was overconfident and underprepared for the conditions — he wrote a list of things he needed to improve.
Soon after, he adjusted his swing.
“He believed in the concept of trying to get way more shallow so that his swing through the bag would be a little more consistent,” Zambri said.
His game has improved ever since.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t change that swing,” said Suh, who never had a coach growing up, but relied on Duk and YouTube videos of Woods.
Suh has his eye on the PGA Tour, but already has decided that he will return to USC for his senior season.
“I already signed my lease,” he said, laughing. The only way that could change, he said, is if he were to win an individual national championship.
His father will be in the gallery watching this week. Hannah and Hynn will be following his progress from San Jose as he tries to capture a Pac-12 championship.
“His mind is very strong,” Duk said. “He can do it.”
Justin said he was confident that his game was coming together at the right time.
“I’ve always wanted to be in this position,” Justin said. “I always wanted to play at this level.”