FORT WAYNE, Ind. – When Justin Pagila lifted his bag at the end of a long day at the Junior PGA Championship, a single “A” appeared on the bottom. It represents the U.S. Army. Pagila is proud to have committed to play golf at West Point beginning in the fall of 2013.
Pagila, a 17-year-old from Dublin, Calif., says he always has wanted to become an officer, and getting to play golf on the way to that goal is a bonus.
“Obviously Army hasn’t been that much of a name in college golf, but we’re looking to change that,” Pagila said. He’ll play under third-year head coach Brian Watts, a figure who Pagila said keeps a dream of professional golf alive without Pagila having to sacrifice the desire to serve his country.
Pagila’s name is one that’s familiar in Northern California. The week before arriving at Sycamore Hills Golf Club for the Junior PGA Championship, Pagila traveled to Eagle, Idaho, with three of his golf buddies to attempt a title defense at the Junior America’s Cup, an event consisting of 17 four-man teams from the western half of the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Northern California won for the 10th time.
“It says we won by four or five,” Pagila said. “But it was much closer going down the stretch.”
In fact, Pagila remembers looking at live scoring with three holes to play and noticing that British Columbia had drawn close to even with Northern California. Teammate Justin Suh of San Jose birdied the final hole in the group ahead as his British Columbianopponent bogeyed, then Pagila added par as his opponent double bogeyed.
“We made some good putts and good shots down the stretch,” Pagila said.
Pagila warmed up for that tournament at the Callaway Junior World Championship at Torrey Pines South. He tied for eighth there, a few spots down the leaderboard from Rico Hoey, who won the individual title at the Junior America’s Cup, and Beau Hossler, who ranks high on Pagila’s golf radar. Hossler is in the field at Sycamore Hills, too. He shot opening rounds of 68-77 (for a 1-over total) and occupies the 15th spot on the leaderboard, one shot behind Pagila, at even par.
“It’s just pretty cool to be in the field with someone I saw on TV, leading the U.S. Open,” Pagila said.
Pagila concedes that he was one of those people “blowing up” Hossler’s phone that week.
“I sent him a text,” Pagila said. “I was like, ‘Dude, I saw you on TV. That’s crazy. You look great.’”
Pagila, No. 68 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings for the class of 2013, loves running into the top four or five players in the country. He can remember them back when they were all 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds. Still, the week at Sycamore Hills might top it all.
“This is probably the toughest field I’ll ever play in, if you look at the names,” he said at the halfway point of the championship. “It’s crazy. I just decided to go out and execute and play my own game. I made some mistakes today, but I hung in there.”
Despite being seven shots off the lead entering the third round, is Pagila still within striking distance?
“Definitely, on this golf course,” he said. “With the par 5s, definitely gettable. I just can’t make the same mistakes.”