John Pak (Joshua Gateley photo)
For John Pak
, there is comfort in Tallahassee, Fla. Perhaps that’s one way to explain why a lackluster summer of amateur golf abruptly changed direction Sept. 9 when Pak won the first start of his sophomore season at Florida State, the Rod Myers Invitational.
At Duke University Golf Course, Pak logged rounds of 62-69-72. He was 13 under for 54 holes, and seven shots ahead of the next player on a weekend when not many players were going terribly low. The Rod Myers Invitational is his second career victory at Florida State. Pak finally got on a hot streak after months of feeling good about his game.
“I guess it was a little bit mental,” he said.
Since Pak arrived at Florida State last season – where he made a serious run at the Phil Mickelson Award, given to the nation’s top freshman – his improvement has revolved around two elements: goals and statistics. Florida State head coach Trey Jones was a big part of that.
As a freshman, Pak wanted to be the nation’s top newcomer (he fell just short), the ACC’s top newcomer (he was) and log a team and individual win (he did). Though most of his goals were results-oriented, Pak also had numbers in mind. He wanted to average under par for the season, and he wanted to get longer off the tee. Pak averaged 285 yards with his driver as a freshman and is working with swing coach Sean Hogan at the Leadbetter Academy to add at least 15 yards by the end of his college career. Coach and player talked about it during a lesson right before the Rod Myers.
"Right before my lesson, (Hogan said), 'What we want to you to do this year is be a guy who hits every single fairway and gain a little more distance, that’s what we’re going to work on,'” Park remembers. "It’s been good so far. That’s my game -- hit the fairway and keep the ball in play.”
The latter part of that plan continues into his sophomore season, even if in the hustle of back-to-school he hasn’t had time to sit down and commit new goals to paper. But Pak takes copious notes on the course, to the point that he can tell you how many feet of putts he holed at the Rod Myers.
“I holed out 170 feet of putts, which is something I’ve never done before,” he said. “I keep all my stats. I write them in my yardage book and we added them up and that’s what it was.”
Pak also keeps track of things like fairways hit, yardage on his second shot, what club he hits on his approach, where approach shots end up and which wedges he uses for chip shots, among other things.
“I’m a very quick player so I wait a lot on the green,” he said. “It keeps me busy.”
If there was ever a player to deem a “student of the game,” then Pak is that player. When he bowed out of the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur before match play this summer, he picked up the bag for Alex Fitzpatrick and Jamie Lee, respectively. That’s a move you don’t often see from a very competitive player, such as Pak. But it shows that Pak just likes to be around the game.
“Alex and Jamie are really good friends of mine,” Pak said. “I’m there, so I might as well help them out if they need a hand. It does help a little bit because you get to see a different point of view. Both have very different games than me.”
Interestingly, that doesn’t translate to a love for watching golf on TV. That, Pak says, is just boring. Put a club in his hand, not a remote.
Pak isn’t a native of Florida, but it’s starting to feel that way. Together with his father Kwang, the Scotch Plains, N.J., native committed to moving south to Orlando, Fla., at the start of Pak’s sophomore year in high school. Pak completed high school through homeschooling and concentrated on golf. He played out of Orange Tree National, home to several mini-tour players and aspiring professionals, and learned to test his game. Thus, the move to college golf felt easy, even if the move to Florida years earlier had been difficult.
“It was a very tough transition, but I had a goal in place and I had a dream to make it on the PGA Tour and I thought it was the best path to take to achieve that goal,” Pak said.
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CALL IT A COMEBACK
: Even though Hurricane Florence shortened the Cougar Classic earlier this week at Yeamans Hall in Charleston, S.C., Sierra Brooks had enough time to give a window into what the rest of her junior season at Florida could look like. Brooks, who joined Florida for the second semester last season, earned her third career victory after rounds of 65-62 left her 17 under, and seven shots ahead of the next-best player. Her 10-under 62 was one shot off the NCAA individual scoring record of 11 under.
If you’re unfamiliar with Brooks’ story, she won the 2015 Sally Amateur, was runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Amateur then represented the U.S. at the 2016 Curtis Cup. Injury plagued her freshman season at Wake Forest, and after a brief golf hiatus, she found her way back to the University of Florida (she had originally committed to Florida as a junior golfer).
Brooks and Florida are back in action this weekend at the Michigan State-hosted Mary Fossum Invitational.
• • •
SPEAKING OF FLORENCE
: For some teams, an impending hurricane means the shortening of events – like the Cougar Classic and the men’s Kiawah Invitational. The Eastern Carolina-hosted Pirate Collegiate Classic has also been cancelled for the weekend.
For others, it means evacuation. The Duke women’s golf team headed to Minnesota for next week’s Annika Invitational a few days early.
Other teams hosted fellow programs who find themselves in the evacuation zones. Here’s to riding out Florence in safety, whatever that means.
• • •
TWEET OF THE WEEK
: Also, the notable-Twitter-account-opening of the week. The Augusta National Women’s Amateur is only seven months away, which is close enough to start releasing broadcast schedules and ticket information, which organizers did on Sept. 12. Find all of that here.
• • •
STAT OF THE WEEK
: AmateurGolf.com contributor Brendan Ryan, a former college golfer, coach and owner of Golf Placement Services, took a look inside the University of Notre Dame men’s program to get an idea of what a college golf scholarship is really worth
. We were most fascinated by this excerpt:
Maybe the most impressive day for incoming freshman is when golf team members first walk into the team locker room and see the uniform for the year. Upon returning to school, Notre Dame players will be treated to 4 pairs of golf shoes, 4 pairs of workout shoes, 6 pairs of shorts, 6 pairs of pants, 15 golf shirts, 6 pull overs, 5 jackets, rain gear, 2 golf bags, travel bags, 12 dozen balls, 3 dozen gloves, 4 pairs of workout shorts, 6 workout shirts, 4 sets of sweats, a ½ dozen hats, and a club fitting by their company of choice.
Click here to read the full article.
• • •
Five questions with
…Monica Vaughn, who won the 2017 NCAA Women’s Championship in her senior season at Arizona State. Vaughn also led her Sun Devil team to the NCAA title that year. Vaughn, a native of Reedsport, Ore., was recently named the assistant women’s golf coach at the University of Oregon.
1. What made you decide to get into college coaching and why did this particular job speak to you?
I think by and large, I had a few really amazing coaches when I was at ASU and it made a very large impact on me and my life and helped me grow so much as a person and as a golfer. I kind of knew pretty early on that I didn’t really want to pursue golf at the pro level. I just thought that lifestyle wasn’t for me. I kind of knew what I was heading into there and I really weighed the pros and cons of it and I decided I’m OK with not playing in college. I’m OK with the success that I’ve had at the collegiate level and all the fun I had and all the things I accomplished. I was perfectly content with ending it there and moving on and seeking new opportunities. I really started thinking hard about coaching within the past eight months or so and I had kind of expressed that to the people I was closest to. I had also been considering moving back to Oregon, at least back to the Pacific Northwest -- I really wanted to be closer to my friends and family back home. I knew with coaching, so many times you have to go where an opportunity is open and even when I was thinking about getting into coaching, I would be willing to wait a year or two if the right opportunity didn’t come up. . . . It just so happened that I sat down with my coaches and talked with them about a week before Derek contacted me for this job. This was kind of like fate, I guess.
2. The golf world hasn’t seen a lot of you since May 2017. What has the past year been like for you – and your golf game.
The past year was really more for my own personal growth. I was actually registered to play in (LPGA) Q-School in the fall of 2017 and I just took a step back and thought this is really not what I wanted to do. I wanted to pull the plug before I got myself a little bit deeper in, so I said you know what, I’m going to take a year to do whatever I want. I have always played golf, my whole life, and I wanted to try a bunch of things I had never done, so I did just that. I got a job serving at a restaurant – it sounds really silly and most people would think, ‘What are you thinking?’ But I really needed a break. I love golf so much and I’m learning to love golf a lot more now that I’m a coach because I think a lost a little bit of that love and a little bit of that passion in my senior year. . . . I didn’t touch a club for almost a year, I have only played golf three times in the last year, and twice in the past week.
3. Walk me through the decision not to turn professional after winning the NCAA title.
I actually made a really firm decision during my senior year probably early in the spring that I was not going to turn pro. I told myself no matter what the outcome was, no matter my finish, I was not going to turn pro. I had no idea that the outcome was going to be that great. . . . After I did that, I started to second guess my decision and I was like, ‘Am I making the right decision? Should I give it a shot?’ Most people around me were like, ‘I think you should do it, give it a try.’ I went back on my own word. I feel like I really should have stuck with it and decided not to turn pro. I went out and played in a couple smaller (pro) tournaments and did have a lot of fun. I realized early on I was correct in my first instinct that playing pro was just not for me. That’s why I was only out there for two months.
4. Is there a chance you might seek amateur reinstatement and compete in more amateur events in the future?
I have thought about it. I’ve had a couple people ask me the same question. Over this past year, I hadn’t really thought about it because I was like ‘No, I’m never going to play golf again.’ Once I started thinking about coaching, I got the job and the girls were like, let’s go play. It’s really fun to just go out and be able to play golf for fun. (Reinstatement) is not a priority right now, but I very well might.
5. Does your background playing at a high-level, and knowing what those high-intensity on-course moments can be like, affect your coaching philosophy?
I think it definitely does, and the moment I started thinking about the possibility of me getting into coaching was the moment I started thinking about how I would be as a coach. That’s been what’s going through my head these past few months. What do I want to teach these girls who I’m going to coach? What are things I can do? What do I bring to the table? How can I make them better people and
better players? Because that’s what my coaches taught me. Derek and I have such a great balance between the two of us. He has such a wonderful and strong teaching philosophy of his own. He knows the technical part of the game, statistics, the numbers behind all of it, and I’m more the mental and feel side of things. We can come together and create what we see as the best combination for our girls. I’m excited to see what we can do together to help this team.