Current Florida State Men’s Golf senior John Pak provides his perspective on playing in the U.S. Open for the first time
The road to get to this point wasn’t easy, and there’s still plenty of work to be done.
Knowing that I’m achieving a life-long dream of playing in a major takes me back to when my Dad and I had to make a hard decision.
When I was a little kid, I didn’t know much about right or wrong. One day, my dad sat me down and told me he wanted us to move from New Jersey to Florida to focus on my golf game. He saw so much in me. He believed in me.
When you’re young like I was, the answer is probably “Nah, I don’t want to do it,” and I think that’s how I felt too. It was a lot to move away from my three brothers, my sister and my Mom. During our time apart, I questioned a lot of things. I missed my family back home. I sometimes look back and regret it.
But when I step back to look at it all, it really was the right decision.
My golf game improved a lot. I was able to play year-round in Florida instead of having to miss four months out of the year. That adds up over time.
All that hard work has led me to here: Playing in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot as an Amateur.
I recently played at the U.S. Amateur, but I missed the cut since I didn’t play that great. I knew there was still a chance I could qualify for the U.S. Open. The previous three nights I wasn’t getting a lot of sleep, knowing that the seven selected Amateurs in the World Amateur Golf Rankings would be announced on Wednesday, August 19th. It was definitely stressing me out.
So, that Wednesday morning I went for a run, and when I came back my parents were banging on the window. They’re on the top floor and they were holding up seven fingers, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. When I went into the house, they yelled out you’re in the Top 7. You got in!!!
I felt such relief, and it was so great to share that moment with them. They have sacrificed so much for my golf game. They’re 100 percent my biggest supporters. I’m fortunate to have those two who will go to the end with me for my entire golf career. There’s not a lot of people who could say that, and I can’t take it for granted. I love them and I thank them. It’s a really wonderful thing. They always have my back.
It’s pretty surreal that my first major comes at a golf course like Winged Foot where I grew up just an hour away in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. I played there about five or six years ago, actually. You go and you hear about the U.S. Open being played there. It’s a special vibe. All the best players have played at Winged Foot, and the reality begins to settle in that I will be playing there too.
Trust me, I’ve done my research on the past majors played at Winged Foot. In 2006, 9-over made the cut there. The U.S. Open is always known as a tough major, so I’m super humbled to play in it.
The opportunity I have in front of me makes me thankful that I followed my dad’s advice. He sold two of his businesses to make the ultimate commitment to my golf game. He put two of his life savings right into his children. We both made a lot of sacrifices. I’m just so thankful for it all.
Coming down to Florida made me take my golf game very seriously. To be honest with you, when I was 10 or 11 years old, I wasn’t very good. But I worked at things and had a big transition when I was 12-13. I’d say the turning point in my golf game came when I was 13 and played at the U.S. Kids Team World Championship. It was a big deal for everyone who golfed back then. I ended up coming in second place.
I actually missed a putt on the last hole to lose by a stroke. It was a tough ride back home, but I had to take away the positives: I competed against the best players in the world. I knew if I could keep doing that, I could be pretty good one day. I started believing I had some game in me.
Another turning point? Well, perhaps the biggest of them all was when I decided to come to Florida State.
I was recruited by a few schools – Florida State, South Florida and Central Florida. I reached out to Coach Trey Jones myself to set up a meeting. Mary Michael Maggio was my main recruiter, and they both made it seem like they really wanted me here. Florida State is one of the best athletic programs in the country – you really can’t go wrong here. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I really mean that: Being a Seminole has been the best thing to ever happen to me. I love it here. I love the golf team here. I love my girlfriend here. I made a commitment to staying at FSU all four years when I signed my Letter of Intent. I’ve already started my senior year at FSU.
I’ve made a lot of friends at this place. All the signs pointed to me staying here for all four years. Someday, I want to give back to this program because of how much it has done for me. If you really want to be good, you have everything at Florida State that you need. You can see that from previous players like Brooks Koepka, Jonas Blixt, Daniel Berger – who all worked hard in college and are doing some pretty good stuff on the PGA TOUR.
The dream of playing in a major one day started at Florida State. My freshman season in 2017-18 allowed me to believe it. That transition from junior golf to collegiate golf is pretty big. I thought I got off on the right step playing pretty well my first year. It really prepared me. I’ve talked to Seminole alum Hank Lebioda and he once told me the best field in amateur golf is almost as strong as a PGA TOUR event. I kind of figured if I were to do pretty well as a collegiate golfer, then maybe I would have a chance of playing on the tour or at a major.
“Being a Seminole has been the best thing to ever happen to me.”John Pak
Well, now that chance has come. My roommate gave me some good advice and said I should set three types of goals:
1. A very hard goal to reach.
2. A very reachable goal.
3. A very solid goal.
I’ll be working on those goals this week at Winged Foot. Playing without fans is not what I envisioned for my first major, but those are things you can’t control. The one thing that bums me out about it is that my Mom and Dad can’t come.
To Florida State, thank you so much for all your support leading up to this moment. I can’t wait to play and represent my university, my coaches, friends and teammates.
And thank you to all of my family, especially my Mom and Dad. I hope I make you proud this week.
– By John Pak
John Pak tees off on Thursday at 12:21 p.m. and Friday at 7:01 a.m. The 2020 US Open will air on The Golf Channel, NBC and will also stream on Peacock.