MUKILTEO — For those of us who have struggled to get good at golf, who have experienced more agony than ecstasy from the game, and who would gladly hand over a month’s salary just to shoot under par one time, it is hard not to be in awe of Alvin Kwak.
Kwak, who lives in Mukilteo, is 13 years old. He picked up a golf club for the first time when he was 8. Two years later he shot his first round in the 70s, posting at 78 at Everett’s Walter Hall Golf Course. Last year, at age 12, he went under 70 for the first time, carding a 68 from the blue tees at the Washington State Junior Golf Association championships at Meadow Park Golf Course in Tacoma.
A year from entering high school, and almost three years from getting a drivers license, Kwak is already doing things in golf many of us only dream about.
And there is more. In late July, Kwak was in Pinehurst, N.C., for the 2014 U.S. Kids Golf Teen World Championships. Playing in the Boys 13 age group, and competing on the Pinehurst No. 9 course, he finished first out of 146 golfers from around the world. He tied with Juan Delgado of the Dominican Republic through 54 holes of regulation, both at 1-under-par 216, and then went to a sudden-death playoff, which he won on the second hole.
The next day Kwak was part of an 18-member U.S. team, boys and girls, that defeated a team of international players in a best-ball tournament of two-person teams. Kwak and his partner, Jake Miller of Richmond, Ind., played well, shooting 4 under par, but they lost to Mauricio Figueroa of Mexico and Rodrigo Rodas of Guatemala, who shot 5 under.
And that was pretty much the only disappointment in an otherwise terrific week of golf for Kwak. “It was fun. And it was very exciting,” said the soft-spoken youngster.
Kwak was born in Los Angeles on Jan. 1, 2001 — his birthday is 01/01/01 — but the next year his father and mother, Andrew and M.J., moved back to their native Korea, where they lived for the next seven years. Returning to the United States in 2009, the family settled first in Snohomish, but later moved to Mill Creek, and then last year to Mukilteo.
Alvin Kwak spoke no English when he arrived back in the U.S., which made it difficult to make friends.
“I had nothing to do,” he said, “so my dad bought me golf clubs and took me to the (nearby) Super Range. … I think I was excited about getting the clubs, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.”
He attended summer golf camps and also began working with a coach, which helped him learn the game’s fundamentals. And because the family now lives near Harbour Pointe Golf Club, Kwak is at the course almost every day, practicing on the driving range, and on the chipping and putting greens. He practiced about five hours a day this summer, though he also played 18-hole rounds a couple of times a week.
Kwak also practices almost every day during the winter. If the weather is rainy, his mother drives him to the Super Range, which has covered tees.
From the outset, that kind of dedication produced a steady drop in his scores. His father, a casual golfer himself, was soon getting beat by his up-and-coming son.
“He made me quit golf,” Andrew Kwak said with a smile. “He started to beat me on golf scores, and when he was 11 I quit golf. … I’m shocked (by his progress), but really proud of him.”
Alvin Kwak, who will start eighth grade at Harbour Pointe Middle School this week, can already hit his driver 230 to 240 yards, and his 5-iron 170 yards. But the best part of his game, he said, “is my iron accuracy and my putting.”
His biggest challenge, as it is for many older players, is mastering the game’s mental aspect.
“I’ll get messed up really easily,” he explained. “Someone says something bad and I’ll get messed up. Or if I have a couple of bad holes I’ll get messed up. It’s kind of hard for me to come back (from that).”
In the future, Kwak would like to attend Stanford University, where he hopes to play on the men’s golf team. Beyond college, he dreams of playing professionally.
“I want to become one of the best golfers in the PGA (Tour),” he said.