May 13, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
In the ongoing adjustment process that is golf, Shun Yat Hak, has made one quite sizable change among smaller tweaks tweaks.
It may come as a surprise as Georgia Tech leaves today for a NCAA Regional Thursday-Saturday in Tallahassee that the Yellow Jacket freshman recently said, “I guess I’ve lowered my expectations because the more you expect, the more you feel like you lose.”
Now that’s heavy.
It makes some sense, however. There is a method here, and background is important.
Coming from St. Mary Prep (Fla.), Hak was Tech’s most highly-touted recruit in years. He had nearly off-the-charts success on the junior golf level, where among other things he tied Sergio Garcia’s record as the youngest player to make a European Tour cut when he did that in the 2008 Hong Kong Open. Hak was 14.
At the end of his junior days, Hak – who grew up largely in Hong Kong – was ranked No. 1 in the nation, and Tech coach Bruce Heppler said when he became a Jackets, the young linkster had, “played at a level the last two or three years that is as impressive as anyone we’ve ever had in the program.”
Then came his freshman year.
It started off miserably. Hak badly sprained an ankle while playing pickup basketball. He played in just two of Tech’s four fall events – both times as an individual, and not having earned a spot on the travel team.
Although his spring has been better, including a peak performance that saw him finish in a tie for eighth place in the Gary Koch Invitational last month, Hak has not played up to the expectations that he arrived with.
So, given the additional pressure that he was putting upon himself, he’s adjusted.
“I always expected myself to play better, to help the team win not just for myself,” he said. “It was a tough fall for me; I was hurt.
“I was the best junior player when I came in here, and I also tried to be the best college player but there are a lot of great players out here. I give a lot of respect to them, and try to learn from all of them, and learn myself better.”
There remains little question about Hak’s potential.
When he was healthier as the second semester began, he made the travel team for the spring debut in Hawai’i, and finished tied for 34th among 116 golfers in the Amer Ari Invitational.
Hak was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard the next time out (the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters) in Las Vegas, he came back to shoot a 70 in the second round of the weather-shortened Linger Longer, and opened the Gary Koch 70-66 before slipping to a 77 in the third round.
His 67 in the second round of the ACC Tournament helped the Jackets pull close after the first round, but that was bracketed by scores of 76 and 75.
Hopefully, proof of future results lies in some of what’s happened in the recent past.
Hak said no more basketball. “None at all,” he said sheepishly. “For me now, it’s just golf.”
The sports require different mindsets. With help from Heppler, assistant coach Brennan Webb and his teammates, Hak is re-wiring himself. He is not saying that he won’t one day go back in time to where he expects himself to be the best golfer in the collegiate ranks, but first he needs to get back to being the best player that he can be.
It’s not as easy as trying to brainwash oneself into believing there is no pressure.
“It’s always tough to play without any pressure, and it’s sometimes good to have a little pressure to push yourself,” Hak said. “Me and coach talk a lot about those things. It’s not like basketball, where you can guard your competitor and have him miss shots. You can’t try to make other people miss shots, or miss a putt in golf.
“You’ve just got to play yourself, and do your own thing. If this week he beats you, go on, and next week try to beat him.”