12 year old Jay Sakagami arrived early on Sunday for the Fall Week 9 Championship at Jefferson Park. He checked in, warmed up on the driving range, rolled a few on the putting green, and after announcements and a review of the rules and format, Jay teed off at 8:30am. Conditions were chilly and damp on the Par-3 course, and some of the tees were set further back than usual, which typically makes scoring more difficult. And with 33 golfers on the course, anything can happen. But Jay stuck to his game plan and focused on one shot at a time.
Teeing off on the 1st hole, which was actually Jay’s 5th of the day (given the “shotgun” format, where all groups start at the same time, but on different holes) Jay hooked a ball to the left, and over toward the 2nd tee box. When Jay arrived to find and play his ball, Coach Evan Johnsen took that opportunity to remind Jay and his playing partners of the importance of yelling “FORE” when a ball is hit toward others on the course, and thanked them for doing so. While always an important topic to discuss with young golfers, Coach Evan was a little apprehensive that the errant shot and conversation may have derailed Jay’s focus. What Evan didn’t know was just how well Jay was playing, and also that it would take a lot more than that to interfere with his determination on this particular day. In fact, not only was Jay not distracted, but he went on to birdie the next two consecutive holes!
As it turns out, those birdies were in addition to one other on Sunday morning, making for three total birdies and a round of 29… the first in Week 9 Championship history! Jay’s 29 won the division by four shots over another outstanding round of 31, by Brandon Bao, and also helped Jay capture 2nd place in the Personal Par awards (-16).
During the ceremony, Jay was presented his trophy and received a round of applause. He was also prompted by a call for a “speeeech!”. From the front of the room, Jay answered two questions:
Jay, what was the secret today?
“I believed in myself.”
How much have you been practicing?
“A lot. Almost every day.”
Jay has been an outstanding member of The First Tee of Greater Seattle since 2014, when he joined a PLAYer 1 & 2 class at Crossroads Par-3 Golf Course in Bellevue. From there, he worked his way up in the program and plans to be at the Eagle level in 2020. Jay plays in the Week 9 Championship every season, competes in PGA Junior League Golf and was selected as his team’s all-star this summer, and plans to get involved as a junior volunteer coach next year.
In addition to his weekly classes with The First Tee of Greater Seattle, Jay has begun taking private swing lessons at Pacific Northwest Golf Academy in Issaquah. He attributes his success to the lessons he’s learned from all of these experiences, but most importantly from his dedication and belief in himself.
Here’s a Q&A with Jay, following Sunday’s record round:
What have you learned at The First Tee?
“I have learned many important things from the first tee. I feel like the coaches mainly teaches me and other players about respect, etiquette, sportsmanship, perseverance, and other things from the core value, which I believe is an important value to my life, too.”
What has been your favorite part of The First Tee?
“I love how there is a lot of cooperation and friendship involved in the first tee classes. Coaches are always kind and help people out. I also love how The First Tee teaches players not only about golf, but a variety of other life lessons and skills.”
Why do you love golf?
“I love golf, everything about it, which is why I choose to continue playing. But I mainly love the game because it’s a very calm and not a too active sport like football or soccer. I also love this sport because anyone can play, whether they’re young or not. “
What are your dreams and goals in golf?
“I would love to be able to play with my whole family, my brother, my mom and dad. However, I do have a bigger dream, to be able to become a player of the PGA tour.”
How has your family supported you in golf?
“My family has always supported me whether I played golf or not. They take me to the driving range for me to practice, gives me tips to keep myself positive, and I always appreciate it.”
How have lessons at Pacific Northwest Golf Academy helped you?
“I think this academy has helped and improved my golf game than any of my other classes I have tried to take apart from The First Tee. I have tried at least 5 other coaches and academy kind of things, and over all, Pacific Northwest Golf Academy, especially Coach Alex and Derek, seems to be the most supportive and helpful to me. I have improved so much in just a year, thanks to this academy and The First Tee.”
Throwback to 2017, when Jay was playing for the Jefferson Park “Putting Potatoes” in PGA Junior League Golf.