Born and raised in New Jersey, Walker Cup hero John Pak has come a long way from Scotch Plains.
On the weekend of Sept. 7-8, Pak reached the pinnacle of his young career when he went 3-0 in his matches in the Walker Cup at England’s Royal Liverpool, leading the United States to its first victory over Great Britain and Ireland on foreign soil since 2007.
For Pak, the Walker Cup was his crowning moment. He was the only American on the 10-man team to go 3-0, winning one foursomes match and two singles matches, all under intense pressure.
When Pak won his singles match on Saturday afternoon, he turned a four-match deficit to just two. He did that by winning his final two holes in a 1-up victory over the current British Amateur champion, James Sugrue of Ireland. The U.S. entered the final Sunday trailing, 7-5, but the U.S. dominated in singles, 8-2, and beat Great Britain and Ireland, 15.5 to 10.5 to extend its series lead to 37-9-1.
“Saturday with John Pak, that was really a pivotal match,” said team captain Nathanial Crosby, who played on the victorious USA Walker Cup team in 1983 at the same Royal Liverpool course. “I think that really made a big difference in our psychology.”
From his dorm room in Tallahassee, Pak looked back on his unforgettable weekend overseas. “To be honest with you, you never dream of winning all this. To actually get it done , I’m speechless. To be able to do all that means so much. It’s really a tough thing to do.”
Pak himself thought the key was in the finer details.
“Everyone was well prepared. We arrived at Liverpool seven days before the tournament, and played the golf course and got used to the weather,” Pak said. “What made the difference was the fact that we had really good team chemistry. Everyone got along really well.
“We played really well in singles - and despite what we expected, we were fortunate to have unbelievable weather. The great conditions really helped us out. It felt amazing to win on their course.”
Pak got his start in golf at Royce Brook Golf Club in Hillsborough, which he calls his home course. His first golf coach was Matt Choi at the Bogota Golf Range.
Following his sophomore year in high school, Pak moved to Florida where he spends the winter months, but he still considers Scotch Plains as his home.
“As a kid living in New Jersey, it was tough to play golf for only half a year. I couldn’t practice my stroke enough during those cold months,” he said. “Tell the other guys and juniors from Jersey that success in golf can be done.”
He is among the most successful New Jerseyans ever to represent the USA in the Walker Cup, a list that includes Chris Nallen of Hackettstown, Morgan Hoffmann of Saddle Brook, Brad Faxon of Oceanport, Mike Sposa of Teaneck and Todd Demsey of Ridgewood.
As a junior golfer, Pak was a two-time AJGA Rolex All-American who grew up learning the game at Royce Brook.
“I really didn’t win that much as a junior golfer. Looking back - getting that first tournament win as a freshman really boosted my confidence,” said Pak, who won Florida State’s Gold Eagle tournament in 2018. In 2019. Pak set FSU's single-year scoring average (69.56).
“I knew I had winning in me this year, but I didn't expect to win three tournaments, and then win the ACC Championship. I never saw it coming, but it worked out. I always thought of the Walker Cup as one of my goals. I had a really good summer, and then winning two matches in the U.S. Amateur really proved the point.”
If there was one shot he will always remember from the Walker Cup was the 11-foot eagle putt he made on the 18th hole in the Saturday match against Sugrue for the 1-up victory that gained momentum for the USA team.
“These were all really great guys and I’ve made friendships for life,” Pak stated. “To represent my country in the Walker Cup is one of the greatest experiences of my life.”