Pak pulls away and rolls to first title at Elk Ridge
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WASKESIU, Saskatchewan—John Pak has no reason to doubt himself any longer. The 2021 national college player of the year finally has his first professional win.
Pak separated himself from the field with a couple of birdies to start his back nine and went on to shoot 7-under 63 on Sunday, leaving him at 21-under 269, good for a four-shot victory at the Elk Ridge Saskatchewan Open presented by Brandt.
“I was overcome with joy,” Pak said. “I worked really hard to get back to where I am today.”
Pak outlasted Chris Korte of Littleton, Colorado, who closed with a 6-under 64 to share second place at 17-under 263 with Connor Howe of Ogden, Utah, who finished with a 66.
Hard-charging Sam Choi of Malibu, California closed with an 8-under 62 to tie for third, at 16-under 264, with third-round co-leader Wilson Andress of Charleston, South Carolina. Andress shot a final-round 68. Cameron Sisk of San Diego, California, and Luis Gagne of Costa Rica both shot final-round 67s and tied for sixth, at 15-under 265.
With the victory, Pak moved into second place of the season-long Fortinet Cup standings, with 500 points. Étienne Papineau, the winner of last week’s Royal Beach Victoria Open, remained in first place after he tied for 37th this week. He has 517 points.
The top Canadian was Noah Steele of Kingston, Ontario. Steele closed with a 68 and tied for eighth, at 14-under 266. Fellow countryman Ziggy Nathu of Richmond, British Columbia, shot a Sunday 67 and tied for 13th, at 12 under.
Pak, of Scotch Ridge, New Jersey, won the Ben Hogan Award and Fred Haskins Award given to college golf’s top player. Pak earned the honors during his senior season at Florida State. But his professional career has not taken off. He played the Korn Ferry Tour in 2022 and had only one top-25 performance. Minor wrist surgery in March caused additional doubts to creep into his head, notions that weren’t dispelled after he missed the cut at last week’s season-opening Royal Beach Victoria Open in British Columbia.
“I know a lot of people have their doubts. I’ve had my doubts,” Pak said. “But this kind of just proved to myself that I can still get it done.”
None of the travails mattered Sunday as Pak took command early. He birdied the opening hole in the fourth round and added birdies at No. 6 and No. 7 before taking a step back with a bogey at No. 8. He got back on the birdie train at No. 10 and No. 11, increased his lead to four shots with a birdie at No. 13, and put it away with birdies on Nos. 16 and 17.
“I was still very nervous,” Pak said. “But having a four-shot lead coming to the 18th hole was nice, especially out here. It’s a tight tee ball. You can hit it one wayward shot and everything could change. But I stuck to my process and hit a good 2-iron right down the middle and just trusted my game from there.”
After the win, Pak’s first phone call was to his parents.
“Emotional,” he said. “They’re always pushing me to get better. They’re always supporting me. Yeah, it was emotional.”
An eagle at the 16th hole highlighted Korte’s round. He also had four birdies during the bogey-free round to turn in his second runner-up finish to start the season. Howe birdied three of the final four holes for his third consecutive round of 66.
Choi birdied seven straight holes on the back nine, Nos. 11 through 17, and carded the lowest score of the week. Andress had only one birdie on the front nine and never got any traction.
Did you know that John Pak posted a perfect 3-0-0 record at the 2019 Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool Golf Club? He joined with Isaiah Salinda to win their foursomes match. He then took down James Sugrue in his first singles match (1-up) and defeated Euan Walker, 2 and 1, in his final singles match.
Fortinet Cup Standings
(Through Elk Ridge Saskatchewan Open presented by Brandt)
|1||Étienne Papineau (Canada)||517|
|2||John Pak (United States)||500|
|3||Chris Korte (United States)||490|
|4||George Kneiser (United States)||283|
|5||Connor Howe (United States)||267|
|6||Sam Choi (United States)||231|
|7||Jared du Toit (Canada)||125|
|8||Wilson Andress (United States)||123|
|9||Cole Bradley (United States)||118|
|10||Chris Francoeur (United States)||117|
Until John Pak’s win, his best finish in a PGA TOUR-sanctioned Tour tournament had been a tie for 17th at the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour’s LECOM Suncoast Open in February. He had made the cut in only eight of his 16 Korn Ferry starts.
John Pak had wrist surgery in March. His wrist bothered him throughout 2022 when he played on the Korn Ferry Tour. He took a two-and-a-half-month break after Q-school.
John Pak was a two-time member of the U.S. Walker Cup team and appeared once as a representative on the Palmer Cup team.
Chris Korte has shot 64 in the final round of both PGA TOUR Canada events this year.
Connor Howe finished No. 18 on the PGA TOUR University ranking in 2023, earning exemption onto PGA TOUR Canada this season with eight top-10 finishes throughout his final season at Georgia Tech.
Sam Choi shot a 29 on the final nine of his fourth round, thanks to the seven straight birdies, the most on PGA TOUR Canada this season. Choi shot 62 and has scored in the 60s in seven of his eight rounds this season. Choi is a rookie who turned professional after helping Pepperdine University reach the semifinal round of the NCAA Championship. He finished No. 11 on the PGA TOUR University ranking to earn PGA TOUR Canada status.
Travis Trace shot 63 Sunday and jumped 30 spots to tie for 27th, at 9-under. The veteran from Jacksonville, Florida, started on the back nine and had four birdies and an eagle on his opening nine.
Gunn Yang, who had a share of the 36-hole lead, recovered from Saturday’s disappointing 73 to close with a 66, good for a tie for 17th, at 11-under 269.
The most-difficult hole Sunday was No. 3, a 488-yard par-4. Only three players were able to make birdie. There were 16 bogeys, five double bogeys and one triple bogey.
The easiest hole was No. 16, the 538-yard par-5, which played to an average of 4.074. It surrendered six eagles, 53 birdies, seven pars and two bogeys.
There were 48 rounds below par, seven at even par and only 13 over par.
Ten Canadian players of the 28 in the field made cut at the Elk Ridge Saskatchewan Open presented by Brandt. The top finisher was Noah Steele, who picked up his first top-10 of the season, a tie for eighth.
Here are the other Canadians and how they finished.
|T8||Noah Steele||266 (14-under)|
|T13||Ziggy Nathu||268 (12-under)|
|T21||Jimmy Jones||270 (10-under)|
|T27||Max Sear||271 (9-under)|
|T37||Étienne Papineau||273 (7-under)|
|T37||Jared du Toit||273 (7-under)|
|T54||Marc-Olivier Plasse||276 (4-under)|
|T57||Lawren Rowe||277 (3-under)|
|T59||Thomas Giroux||278 (2-under)|
|T65||Richard Jung||285 (5-over)|
“I did what I did all week. I stayed patient. I’m pretty sure I was 1-over after nine holes my very first day, and I kept saying (the birdies) are going to come and don’t get overly aggressive. Play smart. And I did that. I had a lot of opportunities, a lot of uphill birdie putts.” – John Pak
“It’s a scary process. No one knows. It could turn out better, it could turn out worse. But I kept trusting my process and my coaches, doing the right things. And it led to this and I’m super thankful for that.” – John Pak on his progress as a pro
Final-Round Weather: Mostly cloudy and mild. High of 23.Wind NNE at 9-11 kph.