U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Friendly Match Prepares Pak for Quarterfinals
July 22, 2016 | Ooltewah, Tenn.
By Stuart Hall
On a sultry late Thursday afternoon at The Honors Course, John Pak advanced to the U.S. Junior Amateur’s quarterfinals for the second successive year.
Having been in this position before, the 17-year-old from Scotch Plains, N.J., understands that as the bracket narrows to Saturday’s 36-hole final, the pressure builds.
Yet, Pak, at least emotionally, may have gotten over his biggest hurdle in a 3-and-2 Round-of-16 victory over Brent Ito.
Ito, 17, of Ardsley, N.Y., about 90 minutes from Pak’s New Jersey home, has been Pak’s closest golf buddy since they first met seven years ago at a U.S. Kids Golf event.
“Outside of golf, we’re not extremely close, but when it comes to golf and we’re at these tournaments, probably a 10,” said Pak when asked to rate their friendship on a 1-10 scale. “We are always hanging out, getting dinner every night.
“Honestly, I felt extremely comfortable [in the match] knowing it was him, but it was also extremely tough playing someone you’re really close to because there is only one winner in match play. I wish we could have met in the championship.”
Pak advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals match against Won Jun Lee, of the Republic of Korea, and has already earned an exemption into next year’s U.S. Junior Amateur at Flint Hills National Golf Club in Andover, Kan.
Ito begrudgingly admits that Pak, who is ranked No. 236 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, is currently playing the better golf of the two. He also knows Pak’s game intimately and believes his friend will be a tough out.
“His ball-striking is usually very straight and he hits his mid to short irons very close to the hole, so from there, if his putting is on, he will be going low for sure,” said Ito, who will join the University of Michigan team this fall.
“I do think this course suits him. It’s not a super-long course, even though the card says it is playing around 7,300 yards. Especially off the tee, if you spray it, you’re pretty much hurting yourself. He definitely keeps it in play and has a good chance to win this.”
Ito’s assessment of The Honors Course jives with Pak’s.
“It’s awesome,” said Pak, who is coming off a second-place finish in the American Junior Golf Association’s Rolex Tournament of Champions on July 1 in Greensboro, Ga. “The course reminds me a lot of the past two U.S. Juniors [at The Club at Carlton Woods and Colleton River Plantation Club] – very similar and challenging golf courses, great conditions, greens are really good. You mishit a putt and it’s your fault.”
While Pak only competes in one or two match-play tournaments a year, he relishes the format and has compiled a 7-2 record in U.S. Junior matches.
“I love playing match play,” Pak said emphatically, while adding that he has grown accustomed to the grueling survive-and-advance nature of this championship. “I don’t feel as much nervousness as the first couple of [U.S. Junior Amateurs]. The first time you play here, you feel so small because you don’t know anybody, but each year, you know more of the guys and it makes your experience easier.”
Except when playing your best friend.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.