By Steve Breazeale
Shorecliffs middle school eighth grader Alex Pak did not feel comfortable about his golf game heading into the Southern California PGA Junior Match Play Championship on July 28. His swing left him during the Callaway Junior World Golf Championships in mid-July, leading to a T-74 finish, and he was untested in match play format, which pits one golfer against another rather than an entire field.
But when the San Clemente native reached the par-5 ninth hole at Oak Creek Golf Club in the opening round of the match play, one 200-yard shot that landed 15 feet from the pin changed his entire fortunes at the tournament.
Pak would barnstorm his way to the tournament title, winning three of his four matches in convincing fashion, including a 4 and 3 win over Jordan McBrayer of Carlsbad in the championship match.
We caught up with Pak days after his big win to talk about his golf game, the tournament and how one shot gave him his confidence back.
San Clemente Times: Match play is a different type of golf competition. How familiar were you with the format before the tournament. Do you enjoy playing like that?
Alex Pak: Match play is definitely a different atmosphere. Usually golf is you against the course. However, in match play, it is you against another person, so the concentration is focused on your opponent. That didn’t make the match more stressful in any way, in fact, it was much more enjoyable because you know how well you are doing and you can always judge your decisions more clearly. That suited me since I play aggressively and I can get away with a slip or fall without having to pay for lost strokes when others are gaining strokes.
SCT: You went into the tournament as the No. 3 overall seed. Did that add any pressure on you?
AP: Being given the third overall seed didn’t disturb me at all. The case might have been different if I was the first or last seed, but to me, third became ideal.
SCT: How did your swing and overall game feel heading into the tournament? Did you like your chances?
AP: I was not confident at all. Two weeks prior, I had completely lost my game at the Callaway Junior World Championships (on July 14). I entered the tournament expecting failure and I had only wanted to learn how match play worked. But after seeing the results of my qualifying rounds, I started to feel confident that I possibly could play well again.
SCT: You won your first match by a wide margin, 6 and 5, is that what gave you the confidence back?
AP: My 6 and 5 win in the first round changed my whole perspective. I realized that match play really fit my style of play and I could possibly win the title with a few more rounds of my best play.
SCT: Was there a particular shot or moment early on that made you think, “Ok, I can win this thing”?
AP: I had a 200-yard shot into the par-5 ninth hole at Oak Creek Golf Club in my first round. I swung the club and the ball obeyed my command, landing 15 feet from the hole, where I drained my eagle putt to go five up on my match. That is when I understood that I could possibly win.
SCT: Given how you were in a funk earlier this month, how does it feel now knowing that you could overcome it for a big win like this?
AP: Winning this tournament ended my drought and I put me back on the right track. Defeating the best young players in Southern California helped boost my self-esteem and this experience will help me with many other events like this.