Special report: An interview with Florida Gator Joe Pagdin

GolfMagic caught up with Joe Pagdin, a Sheffield-born golfer who is making waves at the University of Florida as a Gator. 

Special report: An interview with Florida Gator Joe Pagdin
Special report: An interview with Florida Gator Joe Pagdin

Joe Pagdin is a name you likely aren't too familiar with. 

But the Sheffield-born 22-year-old is making waves at the University of Florida. 

He began playing golf at the age of nine years old after a chance encounter with Ian Poulter inspired him to pursue the game professionally. 

According to ESPN, he was sitting in a sandwich shop in Orlando at a tender age when he saw Poulter pull up in a red Ferrari. 

He went home, watched highlights of the European Ryder Cup legend and never looked back. "He was a role model for me and an idol," Pagdin said. 

Fast-forward a few years and then some and Pagdin is now a Gator at the University of Florida. 

A career on the PGA Tour or potentially LIV Golf beckons, writes Drew Murphy. 

Pagdin is drawing inspiration from Nick Dunlap and Sam Bennett. Just two names who have the potential to make it to the very top. 

Dunlap became the first amateur since Phil Mickelson to win on the PGA Tour when he captured the American Express earlier this year. 

Bennett, a former U.S. Amateur champion, caught the eye of the golf world at the 2023 Masters.

Pagdin said: "College golf is not like it used to be where the gap between pro and college was so big.

"Now you see it with Nick Dunlap, in his first Tour event he goes and wins. Sam Bennett, competing in the Masters, and doing well this year.

"My old team mate, Fred Biondi, won the national championship last year and is now making cuts on the PGA Tour.

"Obviously the top guys are so unbelievably talented, but some of the lads that are coming up who you may not have heard of in junior, developing quietly in the background, go out and compete and it's like playing with a professional golfer."

So what makes some of these college players stand out?

"The flight control of the ball, and the speed they are playing at is insane for their age," said Pagdin. 

"The technology available now, with Trackmans everywhere on the range, the next generation of junior golfers, the 14/15 year-olds are getting better and better.

"It is going to be interesting to see how the game progresses and I personally think it's just going to get younger and younger.

"Experience means a lot but there is so much hunger from these young golfers that they will go out there and take some spots."

Pagdin also believes some young players are torn over their futures, given the allure of the PGA Tour and LIV Golf. Both offer riches untold. 

Former number one ranked amateur Caleb Surratt decided to pursue LIV instead of the established North American circuit. 

Surratt was hand-picked by the reigning Masters champion Jon Rahm and has no regrets about his decision. 

Nor does he worry about getting into the major championships. 

Pagin said: "There has been a lot of talks of college players getting offers and it's definitely an interesting opportunity for me. 

"I'm open to playing anywhere, you know, I love the game and I love playing it.

"I stayed an extra year at college to develop my game even more and to be ready for when the time comes, I can weigh up my options. 

"I will consider everything because only a small percentage of players actually get to play professional golf, especially at the highest level.

"So whatever opportunities I can earn I'll definitely take them when they come."

Tiger Woods' son Charlie recently attempted to make his first start on the PGA Tour by playing in a pre-qualifier for the Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches.  

And Pagdin highlighted the advantages of playing in as many of these type of events where possible. 

He said: "I've done a lot of the Open Championship qualifying and made it to the final qualifying stage last year, and I've made it to the final stage for the U.S. Open a couple of times.

"Those are really cool experiences because you get to play with some big names, for example last year at the Open qualifier I played behind Sergio Garcia, Jamie Donaldson, and Matthew Jordan and I learnt a lot from that experience.

"The pre-qualifiers like Charlie Woods competed in are a good way of keeping you sharp and all you need is a hot day. That's all it takes.

"You definitely get an insight of how good the competition is and they can be pretty good fun."

Making the jump from playing junior golf in England and earning a scholarship to play golf in the U.S. can be extremely difficult and full of pressure.

But Pagdin was able to clear out the noise and concentrate on his game. 

He said: "I committed [to the Gators] when I was very young, aged 13. 

"That was before the NCAA changed their rules, so now you have to be a junior in high school I believe [to sign]. 

"I played international junior golf, all over America and back home in the UK, and played for England boys and GB&I boys, which prepared me very well for coming into college and especially the team side of it.

"Some people could get frightened or overwhelmed by the recruiting process but making my decision very young and securing the spot made me able to play without the pressure of impressing coaches.

"It was one of the greatest decisions I've ever made, I did get some heat for it as I was so young and it was a risk on myself and the University of Florida too.

"But they watched me play a lot and I explored my options, talked to all the coaches and it was the perfect fit."

The decision to commit to the university so young may have caused some people to be intimidated by the pressure to pay back the faith, but Pagdin worked hard and won the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year award.

Playing at such a high level has appeared to take its toll on Pagdin, thought. He discussed how the travelling can be particularly gruesome. 

He said: "It's all about knowing how to take care of your body, and here at UF the trainers and the medical team are really good and get us eating right, hydrating and getting whatever treatment we need to recover and get back playing.

“In my senior year I’ve learnt to get a head start so I'm not worrying about assignments when its time to play golf.

"It can be stressful if you aren't on top of it as we're all here for golf but keeping on track teaches you a lot of life lessons that can transfer to the professional game."

College golfers play and train constantly and, competing in such a tough environment it's no wonder so many young players are making a name for themselves early. 

Pagdin outlined a typical day: "Our schedule can look something like this, [we have] team workouts at 6-7am, go to class for an hour or two, then we're out practicing, doing individual stuff, after lunch we have team practice where we go play, its an all day thing. 

"We will still play on off days, focusing more on short game stuff and limiting ourselves to a few holes.

"The facilities that we have here and the equipment that's available to us is unbelievable, somethings you wouldn't see it in some professional complexes.

"But to have it all paid for, I'm incredibly lucky to have it available to me."

Could we see another amateur taking the professional game by storm and winning a PGA Tour event just like Nick Dunlap did?

Lead image credit: Royal & Ancient

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