PGA TOUR U
John Pak brings buzz to Palmetto Championship at CongareeUnanimous college No. 1 got assist from Brooks Koepka at outset of professional career
June 08, 2021
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
John Pak on his confidence level before Palmetto
You only make your professional debut once, so John Pak is making it count.
The Florida State product, who led the PGA TOUR University ranking and won the Haskins, Hogan and Nicklaus Awards as the top player in college golf, will make his pro debut as a sponsor exemption at this week’s Palmetto Championship at Congaree. On hand will be his parents, Kenny and Michelle, plus his aunt and uncle, who have never seen him compete.
“Yeah, I think they're more excited about it than I am,” Pak said with a smile.
The Palmetto Championship at Congaree, which due to border restrictions takes the place of the RBC Canadian Open this week, will mark the pro debuts of Pak and Davis Thompson, but it’s Pak who comes in with the most buzz.
The son of a grocery store owner in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, Pak says his father’s work ethic rubbed off on him. Pak was the low amateur at the U.S. Open last year (T51), won eight times at FSU, and set a record for low single-season stroke average (69.56) as a sophomore.
He stayed all four years.
“The best move I could have made,” he said. “I learned so much. I think my game has really improved. I think Coach (Trey) Jones really got me to a point where I think I’m ready to compete at the next level on the PGA TOUR.”
Jones also helped Pak navigate a whirlwind. Pak finished fifth individually – FSU lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Pepperdine – at the recent NCAA Championship at Grayhawk in Scottsdale, Arizona. Then he went out on the awards circuit, which meant, among other things, receiving the Nicklaus Award in Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday, then returning to Tallahassee before heading up to Congaree.
It was a lot of travel, and what he needed was a plane to get to Ohio. Jones called FSU alumnus Brooks Koepka, who provided one.
“That was awesome,” Pak said. “It just shows that like Florida State, you really have a family when you go there, and for Brooks to do that is so awesome. And I've had the chance to meet him once and he's been awesome guy, really nice, and, yeah, it was just, it was a really cool experience to be able to fly private and get there Sunday morning and leave Sunday afternoon.”
Had Pak flown privately before? “Brooks actually flew us out to another tournament my freshman and sophomore year,” he said, “so it's really cool.”
As for his expectations this week, he’s cautiously optimistic. At the U.S. Open at Winged Foot last fall he played with Thomas Pieters, who briefly led the tournament, and Jim Herman, so he knows what it takes. Still, it was another pairing, long ago, that may have been even more impactful.
“I was able to play with Collin Morikawa my sophomore year at regionals,” he said, “and two months later he won the one at Barracuda, I think, and I was competing against this guy not too long ago and he's out here winning. And, yeah, it definitely gives me confidence. It definitely shows that young guys, that we can do it, too, if we play our best.”
Davis Thompson finished No. 2 in the PGA TOUR U ranking and, like Pak, will be exempt into all open, full-field events on the Korn Ferry Tour through the end of this season.
“We’ve definitely talked about it,” Thompson said of his relationship with Pak. “PGA TOUR U and how it works and how we’re going to utilize that. I was trying to catch him all year. We’ve kind of bonded because of the Walker Cup, and now we have this PGA TOUR University bond now.”
For Thompson, who is from St. Simons Island, Georgia, it would be hard to make his pro debut much closer to home. His father, Todd, is The RSM Classic Tournament Director – Davis finished T23 as a sponsor exemption in 2019 – and he regularly practices with Sea Islanders like Keith Mitchell.
“I’ll be learning a lot these next few months and soaking in a bunch of information about being a professional golfer,” Thompson said. “It’s kind of been a group effort; my family have helped me, but also a lot of the Georgia golfers who are down there, plus Randy Meyers and Morris Pickens.”
Unlike Pak, who will have a friend carry his bag, Thompson will be trying out different caddies for the time being. He will work alongside veteran caddie Mike Hicks at Congaree.
Rest assured, his will be a coveted bag, as will Pak’s. Their next chapter begins Thursday.