This time, Alvin Kwak just wants to get on television.
The recent Kamiak High School graduate and junior golf standout will be making his third appearance at the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship when play begins in the 72nd edition of the tournament Monday morning at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
Kwak was just happy to be there when he qualified for the U.S. Junior Amateur as a 15-year-old in 2015. He reached the round of 32 of match play two years ago. Now, as an 18-year-old in his final year of eligibility, his goals are a little loftier.
“My goal is to make it on TV,” Kwak said prior to departing for Toledo last Thursday. “That’ll happen if I make it to the quarterfinals, I believe.”
Kwak was one of 156 players under the age of 19 from around the world who qualified for this year’s U.S. Junior Amateur. Two rounds of stroke play, which take place Monday and Tuesday, will whittle the field down to 64. From there the players will go head-to-head in match play starting Wednesday, with the 36-hole championship match set for Saturday. FS1 is broadcasting action Friday (quarterfinals and semifinals) and Saturday.
Kwak earned a spot at the U.S. Junior Amateur by sharing medalist honors in sectional qualifying June 17 at Caterwood Golf and Country Club in Gig Harbor. Kwak shot an even-par 72 to tie for first with Seattle’s Daniel Tiscareno. Those two earned the section’s two berths by a single shot.
Kwak, who had an early tee time, was 2-under-par through 12 before a pair of bogeys down the stretch left him at even par, a number he wasn’t confident would be enough to qualify.
“I played really well at the beginning, but on hole 13 I felt the kind of pressure I haven’t felt in five years, when I was little and didn’t have much experience,” Kwak said. “It probably shows how much I wanted to make this tournament.
“When I finished at even par, there were a lot of players who were under par after nine, so I was really worried. I couldn’t eat, I had to wait for three hours, and I just spent that time practicing. But the finishing holes were really tough.”
That means Kwak had one last shot at U.S. Junior Amateur glory. In 2015 as a 14-year-old, he shot rounds of 88 and 83 at Colleton River Plantation Club in Bluffton, South Carolina, and finished well short of the cut. In 2017 at Flint Hills National Golf Club in Andover, Kansas, Kwak just eked into match play as the No. 63 seed. He then upset No. 2 Brandon Mancheno of Jacksonville, Florida, 1 up in the round of 64 before falling to Japan’s Kaito Onishi 1 up in the round of 32.
Kwak is hoping his wealth of experience on the grand stage serves as an advantage this year.
“I think having won my first match-play match will help, especially against the No. 2 seed,” Kwak said. “I know how good a player he is and he could have won the tournament. So I’m feeling really good going into the tournament.”
Kwak’s game is also strong heading to Inverness. Although his senior year at Kamiak may not have gone the way he would have liked — Kwak tied for 23rd at the Class 4A state tournament, though the Knights won the team title — his results have been much better since. He won the Snohomish County Amateur in late May. He was progressing through the Pacific Northwest Men’s Amateur Championship last week, advancing past stroke play and winning his first match-play meeting before having to withdraw to travel to Toledo.
Kwak is also in prime physical condition. He’s been running three to six miles every night to build his stamina, something that could factor in during a week in which he could play as many as nine competitive rounds.
But one thing Kwak won’t have with him is his secret weapon. In 2017, Kwak’s older sister, Renee, served as his caddie, and more importantly helped keep Kwak cool in the hot conditions by draping ice-cold towels on his head, neck and arms between holes. Renee is unavailable this year as she’s interning at an art museum in South Korea.
Nevertheless, Kwak is confident heading into the tournament.
“I feel like my game is as good as it’s been,” Kwak said. “Other than my distance, everything feels good. I’m not scared to hit any shots, and when I miss the green, I feel I can get up and down from anywhere.
“I’m really proud of (qualifying for a third U.S. Junior Amateur), only a few people do that,” Kwak added. “This is one of the biggest junior golf tournaments, everyone wants to play in it, so I’m happy to be there.”
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