Justin Pagila is an extremely talented golfer for De La Salle. But it’s his goals off the course which define him.
By JOE STIGLICH | Contributor
Justin Pagila is one of the Bay Area’s most gifted prep golfers, so it’s amazing that the praise showered upon the De La Salle High School senior often has little to do with his game.
“He’s a dream kid, someone you’d want your daughter to go out with,” De La Salle assistant golf coach Terry Eidson said.
“An All-American type young man,” Foothill coach Bill Hayes added.
Referring to Pagila’s plans to enlist in the Army, De La Salle head coach Leo Lopoz couldn’t resist labeling Pagila “a true officer and a gentleman.”
It all sounds cliché and perhaps even corny. But it’s dead-on accurate in describing Pagila, who deservedly is commanding attention for his golf exploits too.
He made national headlines at the De La Salle Invitational on March 11 when he fired a 9-under 62, tying the course record at Diablo Country Club, which opened in 1914.
Pagila spent the summer competing in some of the country’s most elite junior tournaments, then went to China in November and finished seventh in the Aaron Baddeley International Junior Championship.
Having proven himself in so many high-profile events, Pagila could have chosen to play his college golf at some powerhouse program known for churning out PGA Tour regulars.
That’s what makes his decision to join the Army so fascinating.
Pagila, 18, will play golf for the Cadets, but he realizes he’ll have to put his game on the back burner due to the time and service commitments at West Point.
He offers sound rationale for his decision.
“When you walk into a room, there are certain people that instinctively take charge and gather the troops, so to speak,” Pagila said. “I wanna be one of those people. And I felt like (the Army) is where I can become like that versus any other place.”
Right now, he’s trying to lead De La Salle down the path to another Northern California championship. The Spartans won the NorCal crown in 2011, when Pagila finished fourth individually as a sophomore.
The Palm Springs Champions Invitational on April 3 will provide a solid barometer for the team. But the Spartans already notched an impressive victory by winning their own De La Salle Invitational, which featured some of the state’s best players.
That’s where Pagila torched Diablo Country Club for seven birdies and a chip-in eagle on No. 18 to card his 62. The only golfers to match that number in the 99-year history of the course were Bud Shank in 1962 and Geoff Gonzalez in 2011.
To put some perspective on Pagila’s astonishing round: Beau Hossler, the prep phenom who briefly held the lead at the U.S. Open in June, played in the DLS Invitational three times at Diablo and reportedly never shot better than 70.
Acalanes junior Will Brueckner, who was in Paglia’s foursome that day, said he knew Pagila had a special round going after they played the par-3, 213-yard 13th hole, which requires a tee shot over water.
Brueckner and the two others in the group flared their shots to the right.
“Justin took out a 4 iron and hit a bullet to about 10 feet,” Brueckner said.
Brueckner, who recently won the San Francisco City Championship, has known Pagila since elementary school. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see both contending for the North Coast Section and NorCal individual titles.
“When he’s going good, the putts just fall,” Brueckner said of Pagila. “He stands over a putt, and he’s so focused and so confident that he has the right line, the ball is just gonna go in. I saw that pretty much on every hole (at Diablo).”
Hayes has coached Foothill — an East Bay Athletic League rival of De La Salle’s — for more than two decades, and he said Pagila ranks among the area’s top high school talents.
“He’s playing the course rather than just hitting shots,” Hayes said. “I’ve seen many kids, but I’ve seen nobody that is more mentally mature than he is.”
Pagila said he works to get the most out of his practice time. He tries to perfect certain shots that he knows he’ll need for specific courses on the schedule.
He’s also benefited from the Cross Fit training program he began doing with his father, Rodney, during the summer. Pagila has packed on 13 pounds since beginning the program and he’s added distance off the tee and improved his stamina.
His strength impresses Eidson, the De La Salle assistant who serves as the Spartans’ defensive coordinator during football season.
“Truth is, golfers have never been the greatest in the weight room,” Eidson said. “But he basically lifts like a football player.”
That conditioning will serve Pagila well in the Army. He’s required to spend four years at West Point, followed by five years of active duty and two years in the reserves. Pagila is confident that such a commitment won’t sabotage his hopes of playing professional golf.
“My commitment to Army will take precedence, but it’s not going to prevent me from becoming a PGA Tour golfer,” he said.
“I’m not really looking that far down the road right now. My goal when I get to the Army is to do well in school and make Army one of the best teams in the NCAA.”
Lopoz, in his 10th season coaching De La Salle, talks highly of Pagila’s well-rounded game but marvels even more at his decision to attend West Point.
“His appointment to the Academy is a big deal to him,” Lopoz said. “He bypassed many schools that probably would have helped him advance his golf career. But it kind of sums up Justin though. He’s just different — in a good way.”
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