U.S. AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
Pebble Beach VP Experiencing USGA Championship as a Player
May 17, 2018 | Tequesta, Fla.
By Jeff Babineau
John Sawin can relate to those fellow competitors who left behind stacks of work on desks and unanswered business calls on their way to Jupiter Hills Club for the 4th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship.
Sawin, 33, is four months into a new job, a far different venture than his previous work life in financial services and wealth management. The responsibilities are numerous, the hours long, and he’s had little free time to devote to the game he loves. He’s perfectly fine with that. As the newly minted vice president and director of golf at Pebble Beach Golf Company – yes, that Pebble Beach – his golf soul is spilling over its brim.
“My office looks down the ninth fairway at Spyglass [Hill Golf Course]. I’m behind the green, and you can see the ocean in the distance. It’s a beautiful setting,” said Sawin. “One resolution I made to myself: It’s easy when you’re working 17 hours a day, 100 hours a week, to just get lost in the demands of the job. But every day, I remind myself how fortunate I am to be working where I am.”
These are very busy times for Pebble Beach. In addition to annually hosting the PGA Tour (AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am) and the PGA Tour Champions (Pure Insurance Championship), the iconic venue will stage the 118th U.S. Amateur Championship Aug. 13-19, hosting the event for the first time since 1999. Entries won’t close until June 27, and already more than 4,000 golfers have filed entries, more than halfway to eclipsing the all-time mark of 7,920 set at Pebble 19 years ago.
Next June, Pebble will play host to its sixth U.S. Open in conjunction with the resort’s centennial. In 2023, the U.S. Women's Open will be conducted for the first time at Pebble Beach, and another U.S. Open is scheduled for 2027.
One of Sawin's primary responsibilities is co-chairing the U.S. Amateur, a challenge that could grow if he also fills a role as a competitor that week. He has received the go-ahead from Pebble Beach CEO Bill Perocchi to compete in 36-hole qualifying at Bayonet, in Seaside, Calif. As if that wasn’t enough on his plate, Sawin and his wife, Therese, are expecting a baby boy in August.
Given all that is happening in his life, Sawin is realistic enough to know that his golf game – one good enough to win the 2013 Stocker Cup, the 2014 Pennsylvania Amateur, the 2015 Travis Invitational and the 2017 club championships at both Merion Golf Club (his sixth) and San Francisco (Calif.) Golf Club (fifth) – won’t get much of his attention until after next summer's U.S. Open. That’s one of the reasons he’s been so amped to play in U.S. Amateur Four-Ball.
Sawin will play alongside an old high school pal from his days in the junior program at Merion: Tug Maude, 35, a former mini-tour player who is competing in his first USGA championship. But Sawin also will get a player’s view of the championship, hoping to bring some ideas and perspective to enhance the player experience at Pebble Beach.
“Anytime I get to play golf with my lifelong golf friend, I feel like a kid on Christmas again,” said Sawin, who was part of three Ivy League championship teams at Princeton. “The other piece of it, for me, given all the planning I’ve been giving our U.S. Amateur, it will be great to go through this experience with the USGA with a different lens. In all regards, it’s going to be, hopefully, a really productive trip.”
Sawin had a job he loved in the San Francisco office of Evercore Wealth Management, where he was being groomed as a protégé to Stu Francis, a senior managing director and Princeton alum who also happens to be the chairman of the USGA’s Championship Committee and a member of the 15-person USGA Executive Committee. Sawin normally doesn’t pay attention when headhunters come calling, but one message last August drew his attention: A woman was calling on behalf of Pebble Beach Golf Company, looking to hire a chief strategy officer.
Sawin interviewed and was one of two finalists. Perocchi informed the candidates that he wanted to hire them both. He just couldn’t tell Sawin at the time what his plan was for him.
In November, R.J. Harper, Pebble’s Beach’s highly respected vice president, lost his 14-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 61. In December, Perocchi asked Sawin if he had an interest in succeeding Harper, a mighty tall order.
“Absolutely,” Sawin answered.
He'd honor Harper by working diligently. In a four-day span before the December holidays, Sawin qualified for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at Poppy Hills Golf Course with Maude (they shot 64) and accepted his new post at Pebble. He started in January.
“So it was an eventful week, a life-changing week, obviously,” he said.
Sawin, whose father, Henry, a cardiologist, played golf at Georgetown and taught him the game at an early age, boasts a rather impressive golf pedigree.
“Between growing up at Merion, and now being out there at Pebble, he’s definitely doing it right, yeah,” said Maude, laughing.
Sawin credits Maude, two years older, with talking him out of lacrosse and steering him into tournament golf as a youth in Haverford, Penn.
“The opportunity at Pebble was pretty interesting, a total change of pace for him from the finance and wealth management worlds,” added Maude. “I reminded him of the mantra, that if you want to play golf, don’t get in the golf industry. He said: ‘I know, but I’m passionate about golf. I feel I’m going to excel at this.’”
In 2014, Sawin began to get invitations to the premier amateur events he’d always wanted to play. He made a bold decision then, too. He left an investment banking job at Barclay's to concentrate on golf, to see just how good he could become if he dedicated himself.
From a competitive standpoint, he proved he could go up against the nation’s top college players and mid-amateurs (25 and older) and hold his own. Beyond that, Sawin made quality golf connections all over the country.
“That was such a dream year for me,” he said. “I learned a ton and I met a ton of really great people. I don’t think I’d have ended up at Pebble Beach, honestly, if I hadn’t taken that year off. A lot of people questioned that decision at the time. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
He really is living the dream.
Jeff Babineau is an award-winning Florida-based freelance writer.