John Oda will remain in the Las Vegas area, but his days in college golf are over.
The 21-year-old revealed to Golfweek that he has decided to turn pro, meaning he’ll miss his senior season at UNLV. Oda was a standout for the Rebels, earning All-American honors each of his three seasons.
But something was different his junior season. Oda won two times overall in his first two years at UNLV, but he jumped out to two wins in his first four starts of the 2016-17 season. He’d finish the season – and his college career – placing inside the top 10 in his final nine starts on his way to first-team All-America honors.
This summer, Oda had top 10s at the Pacific Coast Amateur and Sahalee Players Championship, made the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur and qualified for the U.S. Open. He was a hopeful for the U.S. Walker Cup team but ultimately wasn’t selected for the squad.
For most of his junior year, Oda had contemplated the idea of leaving for the pro ranks after the season. Qualifying for the U.S. Open and competing at Erin Hills in June essentially made up his mind.
“The real tipping point for me was playing in the U.S. Open this year,” said Oda, who missed the cut that week. “To play against the best guys in the world was pretty motivating, it’s where I want to be.”
He’s taken his first step by turning pro, and is doing so in a comfortable setting.
Oda, originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, will still base himself out of Las Vegas, as he’ll live with (now former) teammates Shintaro Ban, Justin Kim and Justin Chong as that trio embarks on the 2017-18 college season. The new pro also hopes to use Southern Highlands Golf Club as his main home base for practice.
Other details are still in the works. Oda will compete in the first stage of Web.com Tour Q-School, having signed up for The Crosby (in San Diego) site from Oct. 3-6. But his pro debut may come sooner, as he’s contemplating playing a couple of state Open-type events in the meantime.
He paid the $4,500 entry fee for Q-School but has backers in Las Vegas who are likely to help him out with financing as he starts up his pro career. He appreciates the support but also hopes to be as independent here as he can.
“I’m a big believer in you play to earn things, you let the clubs do the talking,” Oda said. “At the end of the day, I want to play my way and earn my card, and earn my living that way.”
Oda’s bag, for the time being, will continue to consist of TaylorMade woods, and Titleist for all other clubs and his ball (this may be subject to change depending on what happens when he signs an equipment deal). For management, he’ll sign with Hambric Sports.
Oda had informed UNLV’s coaches, Dwaine Knight (head) and Philip Rowe (assistant), in the spring of his thoughts about turning pro after his junior year. Oda sat down with both last week to discuss the 21-year-old’s options.
Neither coach pressured Oda to stay. A main plus for Oda staying would be an opportunity to dominate college golf as a senior. He could also finish his degree, although the economics major still plans to some time in the future. Turning pro now also means getting a head start on the learning curve that comes with pro golf.
“I want to get my career going, and I want to get that learning curve toward pro golf going,” Oda said. “It’s something that you can’t prepare for, but it’s something you need to experience.”
The immediate path is clear. Oda will go to Q-School to try to earn his Web.com Tour card. He’ll also enter Monday qualifiers for PGA Tour events, schedule permitting.
If Web.com Tour Q-School doesn’t work out, Oda has his sights on Web.com Tour Monday qualifiers and Mackenzie Tour Q-School.
He’ll have resources for advice, too. UNLV is out its highest-ranked player from a squad that made match play at the 2017 NCAA Championship (losing in the quarterfinals to Vanderbilt), but the Rebels should be OK considering they’ve become one of college golf’s premier programs in Knight’s 30-year tenure.
Ryan Moore, who won an NCAA individual title at UNLV, keeps his ties to the program and has played with Oda. Kevin Na and Oda have struck up a friendship as well. Oda’s main swing coach is Denny Lucas, but he also gets advice from fellow Hawaiian Dean Wilson (a PGA Tour winner like Moore and Na).
Oda sports a controlled game, one based on precision and consistency rather than raw power. Ban has raved about Oda’s wedge game and uncanny sense for distance control.
A piece of advice Oda has gotten from Moore has stuck.
“I remember Ryan telling myself and a couple of other guys on the team that all you need is three birdies to shoot 3 under,” Oda said. “It’s about minimizing mistakes.”
Of course it’s also about learning to adjust, something that Oda realized at the U.S. Open, where he felt he overworked himself. Oda has already competed in three PGA Tour events (qualifying for the 2012 and ’17 Sony Opens as well), but he still feels he can get better about balancing his schedule so he’s not burnt out by the time play commences tournament week.
It’s also nice to have confidence. Na said earlier this year that he would help Oda get financial backing as a pro. While Oda hasn’t talked to Na recently – he doesn’t want to bother a man busy with the PGA Tour season and a new family – the relationship there remains.
The world of professional golf can be daunting, but Oda does so with total faith from a PGA Tour winner.
“John’s going to make it (in pro golf),” Na told Golfweek in March. “I believe in him.”