SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- In a way, he's come full circle.
Scotch Plains native John Pak tees off in his first ever US Open golf tournament this week at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, NY. Seven amateurs earned entry into the 120th U.S. Open Championship, which begins Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. The invitations are based on the World Amateur Golf Ranking® (WAGR) of Aug. 19. The players are No. 1 Takumi Kanaya (Japan); No. 2 Ricky Castillo (Yorba Linda, CA); No. 3 Chun An Yu (Chinese Taipei); No. 4 Davis Thompson (Saint Simons Island, GA); No. 5 Eduard Rousaud (Spain); No. 6 Sandy Scott (Scotland); and No. 7 John Pak (Scotch Plains).
At just 21 years old, Pak is one of the youngest players in the field. He spent his freshman year of high school at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School before leaving his family behind and moving to Florida with his father to pursue golf full time while homeschooling.
"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." -- John Pak
"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," Pak said. "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."
"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... But when I step back to look at it all, it really was the right decision," he added.
Pak went on to play with Florida State on the university's men's gold team. Currently, starting his senior year at FSU, he is in the midst of a stellar collegiate career. He won the Seminole Intercollegiate Tournament in 2018 and 2020, the Mobile Sports Authority Intercollegiate Tournament in 2019 and 2020, and the Sea Best Invitational and an ACC Championship in 2019. He is also a three-time All-American and All-South Region selection.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School golf coach Ryan Goracy said that the one-time Raider showed remarkable talent and a lot of poise at an early age.
"Johnny was a standout for us. He averaged 37.4 shots per nine holes. We were 18-2. The team did not advance as far as they could have, but he went to the State Tournament of Champions as a freshman," said Goracy. "He wasn't as big as the other kids, but he could hit the ball as far as they could. He is also excellent at putting."
"As a ninth grader, Johnny was mature for his age. He didn't stress or dwell on the negative side of things," Goracy added. "He didn't get frustrated; he could put a bad shot behind him and make up for a mistake."
The coach said that his teammates were disappointed to see him leave, but it turned out to be the best decision for him. Pak has made it far into the Junior Nationals and won the AJGA, the premier junior golf championship, according to Goracy. Pak also played on the Walker Cup against the Britain/Ireland team.
"I've been following his career. He is the real deal," Goracy said.
Now Pak has a chance to show what he can do at one of golf's major events.
"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," Pak told Seminoles.com. "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."