Paul Park: The Final Spot
September 12, 2018
By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
- Paul Park's best finish this year was a T5 at the Syncrude Oil Country Championship presented by AECON. (Brendan Stasiewich/Mackenzie Tour)
Paul Park was doing some financial calculations last Sunday, a throwback to an earlier career choice, when he found out the good news.
Park, who finished 60th on the money list and earned a spot in this week’s Freedom 55 Financial Championship by just $500, originally thought this week was going to be one where he stayed at home.
Initial projections had him 61st – by a heartbreaking $47 – but after a pity refresh of the scoreboard once the tournament had concluded, he was actually at No. 60.
There was a scoring error. He was in.
He called the PGA TOUR scoring official at the Mackenzie Investments Open presented by Jaguar Laval to confirm what he was seeing, and his father – who was looking at the scores on another screen in a separate room – came into Park’s room and gave him a hug.
It was a silent celebration where no words needed to be exchanged.
But for the 29-year-old, the hug was a culmination of a lot of work. Park finally got an answer to a question he had been asking all year long: was he good enough to actually do this?
Because Park, who now has full status on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada for 2019, only picked up golf again about 18 months ago.
He was working in finance for the last four years, playing a mere five times before deciding his passion to play golf was too much. He had to give it one last try.
“When I left the game, I had no intention of coming back,” says Park.
The native of Wayne, New Jersey, grew up competing against PGA TOUR member Morgan Hoffmann. He went to Indiana University on a golf scholarship, becoming the first New Jersey native to play for the program. He played there with Chase Wright, a winner on the Mackenzie Tour in 2017 and the Web.com Tour in 2018 (who will be playing the PGA TOUR next season).
He turned professional but didn’t find success right away. He decided to do something with his degree instead, and moved to California to work in personal finance. He became an investment banker at a small firm called Venegas Capital.
Since it was a boutique firm, he could be more involved in deals than he would have been at a larger office. He was thriving, and enjoying the work.
He moved to Wilshire Associates at its Santa Monica office after a few years and was a consultant.
“The hours were a little more flexible. It wasn’t investment banking so I wasn’t working 100-hour weeks,” he says with a laugh. “It was the break I needed.”
That break was the first time he realized how challenging things were in the corporate world – although he was still enjoying it – he was missing golf.
He says he talked to his parents and a few of his close friends and decided to give golf another shot while he was still young.
“I had the financial backing to pursue it again one more time, and this time I was ready to give it another shot and if it didn’t work out, it was alright with me … if I didn’t happen to make it I could leave the game completely without any regrets,” he says.
Park says he only played five rounds of golf in the four years he was in finance. After he stopped playing, though, he saw some of his friends were on the PGA TOUR, Web.com Tour and European Tour. He started to follow them and he went to the Genesis Open on the PGA TOUR at Riviera Country Club, since it was pretty close to his office, and he had a revelation.
“I went to watch and I was like, ‘Wow, I kind of want to be out here,’” he says.
He tried Mackenzie Tour and Web.com Tour Qualifying School in 2017 and admitted he “wasn’t nearly ready” for either. He played poorly in Mackenzie Tour Q-School, he says, but missed the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School by just two shots.
Park came back and tried Mackenzie Tour Q-School again this spring, in Florida, and ended up tied for 20th. He had a poor third round and nearly fell out of contention, but bounced back nicely in the fourth round to earn some status.
“That performance was exactly a proving ground to let me know I could do it,” he says. “Just being in that situation proved a lot to me.”
Park ended up playing in most of the Monday Qualifiers this year, as his status wasn’t such that he was guaranteed any starts. On several occasions, he says, he got the last and final spot in a tournament.
He missed the first three cuts and went to South Korea for two weeks for a wedding – missing the Lethbridge Paradise Canyon Open in the process – but says the break was a good one.
He had no idea he was going to get into the Windsor Championship, so he flew home to New Jersey from South Korea on the Monday of that week. He ended up getting a call on Tuesday saying he was actually in the field, and he flew up to Ontario to play.
That started a run of five-straight made cuts for Park, including a tie for fifth at the Syncrude Oil Country Championship presented by AECON, his best result of the year.
Heading into the Mackenzie Investments Open, Park was 57th on the money list. A made-cut would secure him a spot in the season finale, and give him status for 2019.
He says he was feeling good going into the week, but just couldn’t convert on the birdie chances he was giving himself. He missed the cut by one.
“My season was over,” he says.
Park flew home to New Jersey to try to re-focus on what was next – he was to play in Web.com Tour Q-School the first week of October – but when he arrived, his dad said there was still a chance he would get into the top 60.
Without realizing the PGA TOUR does the projections for its website and mobile app, his father had written down the scenarios by hand.
Park and his father played a round of golf together on the Saturday and the Park family had dinner together. Sunday he woke up early and allowed himself one check of the PGA TOUR’s mobile app. He tried to keep his mind off something totally out of his hands after that – he went to the gym, he did some house work, he watched a movie, and he played a video game – but with two hours left in the round, he couldn’t help himself.
Justin Deodon had come in and he was tied for eighth, and the app showed Park was out.
“I was crushed. I was just going back through my season and thinking of the stupid mistakes and the one shot that could have made the difference,” he says.
One more refresh, however, showed that Doedon had moved into a tie for 12th.
“I looked at his scorecard and one of his scores changed on one of the holes. He made a five, not a four. I wasn’t looking at the scores and rooting against any players, I was just hoping for another opportunity to play,” he says. “I was so stoked to see that I made it. Once (PGA TOUR staffer) Amy (Roberts) confirmed it, my Dad came flying into my room and gave me a hug and congratulated me.”
All those financial calculations paid off, but not in the same way they had been for the last four years. Park is a professional golfer again, and couldn’t be more excited.
“I’m beyond thrilled,” he says. I’m just so grateful I’m able to be out here.”