Re-energized Janico pumped for Polo Junior

Jordan Janico will play in his first Polo Golf Junior Classic next week at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Jordan Janico will play in his first Polo Golf Junior Classic next week at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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Jordan Janico’s tournament schedule went dark last October. Unsure whether he wanted to continue pursuing a sport he had played since he was 9, Janico put his sticks away and shifted his focus to school.

The 17-year-old simply wasn’t sure golf was the sport for him, and looking back, calls those few months he spent away from the game “a weird time.” Janico was back on the course by February.

He’s been going full throttle since.

“I think after I came back, I had a lot more fire for the game, a lot more passionate to play,” Janico said. “That’s kind of carried over now, so I think it was a good break, a good thing to happen.”

This year, it’s a completely different story for Janico. He will tee it up Nov. 23 at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., for the Polo Golf Junior Classic, the first time he’ll play in the prestigious event.

There’s plenty of reasons to expect Janico to continue his good play. The Duluth, Ga., native came out of his golf hiatus with a vengeance, and had the most successful summer in his career.

In June, Janico posted 13 under at the Southeastern Junior Golf Tour’s Huntsville Junior Invitational, which tied a SJGT record for the lowest 36-hole score. Janico shot 62-67 at the Hunstsville (Ala.) Country Club, and left the runner-up 11 shots back.

“I only hit four fairways, but with my short clubs, everything was on,” Janico said –rather nonchalantly – of a tournament where he birdied nearly half of the holes he played.

Janico also tied for second at the AJGA Nationwide Insurance Junior in July, and played through a pulled muscle in his back that left him hardly able to walk, much less swing a club. He gutted out three rounds, and ended up shooting a final-round 69. Armed with a new set of Titleist AP2 irons and a return to an old TaylorMade Monza Corsa he recently brought out of retirement, Janico finished fourth at the Golfweek Junior Invitational earlier this month.

Janico, a tall, wiry and unassuming player, certainly has a story that’s not often heard on the junior circuit as most players try to cram as many tournaments into their schedule as possible. Mike Perpich, who has coached Janico since he first took up the game, knows his student’s time off doesn’t mean he’s any less committed now that he’s back.

“When the flag goes up, he can play golf,” Perpich said. “I’ve seen him where he’s kind of struggling with his swing and his mechanics and you say, ‘There’s no way this guy is going to play good.’ And then Sunday night you get a call that he won.”

That’s exactly what Perpich told Vanderbilt coach Tom Shaw when he showed interest in Janico days before Janico went low in Huntsville. Perpich sees Janico, who will play for the Commodores in the fall of 2010, as an asset because he can play tournament golf, and as his teacher says, “Some of that you can teach, and some of it you can’t.”

For Janico, however, there was really only one school in his mind from the beginning. He went in to the college selection process looking for three things: a big conference, a school where he would have the opportunity for lots of playing time and strong academics. A handful of other universities (like Wake Forest, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech) caught his attention, but no school seemed to fit quite like Vanderbilt.

“That was the first school I saw, and I kind of knew after I went there the first time, that’s where I wanted to be,” he said.

Janico committed to Vanderbilt the day after his record win at Huntsville, and from there began the test-taking period. With no golf stress on his mind, Janico scored a 32 on the ACT and a 2,090 on the SAT (writing included). It’s no surprise Janico has an eye on a career in engineering down the road.

Despite an obvious knack for school, Janico’s father, Peter, isn’t sure his son realizes just how tough the balance between golf and academics will become next fall. A sales executive with a software company, Peter laughs a little as he tries to describe what it is, exactly, that Janico would do with the engineering degree he wants to pursue. It’s complicated, to say the least, but Janico has never been one to shy away from hard work.

“We’ve never had to say, ‘Have you done your homework?’ ” Peter said.

In Perpich’s mind, balance is part of the reason Janico is where he is. When he wanted to try something growing up – such as soccer (Janico plays mid-field for his high school team) – he did it. When he set his mind to golf, it was “Katie, bar the door,” and when it comes to giving back, Janico has that figured out too.

Around St. Ives Country Club, where Janico plays and practices, it’s not uncommon for Perpich’s younger students to follow their lesson with a round with Janico.

“There’s some young kids that have moved in there recently that I have started teaching also, and he goes out and plays with them,” Perpich said. “I think something that he didn’t have in golf for awhile was it was just him, there weren’t other teammates.”

Janico is doing his part to make sure that’s not the case for the up-and-comers.

Now that Janico knows golf is a sport he’s not only good at, but wants to pursue, Perpich is ready to go full speed ahead until his student packs his bags for Vanderbilt next fall. In between tournaments like the Polo and hopefully a few USGA events this summer, Perpich is working to prepare Janico to hit the ground running in Nashville, Tenn. Perpich wants his student at the top of his game both mentally and physically.

“When he gets in his car and he’s ready to go that day, he’s going to be able to say, ‘I’m ready to go,’ ” Perpich said. “He’s on board with that.”

Looks like it’s soon to be “Katie, bar the door” in Nashville.

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