Arnold Palmer links high school golfers Pevarnik, Jackson
Brady Pevarnik and Palmer Jackson have been friends for years and have played countless rounds of golf together.
High school golf season opens Thursday and Pevarnik, of Latrobe, and Franklin Regional's Jackson will be two of the top returning players in the WPIAL.
But Pevarnik and Jackson share more than home courses, memorable moments and leaderboard spots. They have a unique bond with Arnold Palmer who, like them, made his mark in the WPIAL before becoming an icon.
Pevarnik talked to Palmer numerous times while playing at Latrobe Country Club and was inspired by Palmer's grandfatherly presence, perhaps moreso after Palmer died in September at age 87.
When he was home in his native Latrobe, Palmer had a way of blending in. His friends did not look at him with the awe of gallery patrons.
“To be honest, I took it for granted,” Pevarnik said. “He followed me around the course in a cart during our matches last year. I didn't really think anything of it. But now that I look back, it was a really big deal. He was awesome.”
Jackson, meantime, might have been named Doug or Frank, heck, Sidney, if not for Arnold Palmer. His parents had such respect and admiration for Mr. Palmer, they named their son after him.
“He gives me great inspiration to play the game,” Jackson said. “The name is an honor. I am sure I would still play and love the game even if I wasn't named after him, but that makes it more special.”
Jackson doesn't know what his name would have been, but he doesn't much care, either.
“I've never thought about it,” he said. “I love my name.”
Palmer won back-to-back WPIAL titles in 1946 and '47 before he went on to win 62 times on the PGA Tour, including seven major championships.
Pevarnik and Jackson, both of whom frequent Hannastown Golf Club, could be competing against one another for WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA titles in October. They have been close on the leaderboard before: When they were freshmen, Pevarnik finished third and Jackson fourth in the WPIAL. Last year, they matched 77s and tied for 10th in the finals, held at Oakmont Country Club for the first time.
Pevarnik was tied for 10th in the PIAA tournament two years ago, and Jackson finished seventh. Last year, Pevarnik was a WPIAL-best third and Jackson tied for ninth.
Pevarnik and Jackson coasted to section titles last season, shooting 66 at different sites, and also won separate semifinal tournaments.
Pevarnik also captured the Western Regional tournament, and Jackson finished fourth.
“My expectations are to win everything I play in,” Pevarnik said. “I know on my best day, if I play well, I'll win.
“For me, I want to peak at the right time. Last year, I peaked at all the wrong times.”
Said Jackson: “I have a lot of confidence in my game.”
Both players have had strong summers. They played together on the winning WPGA Williamson Cup team.
Jackson won the state junior championship and the C.R. Miller Match Play and took eighth in the state amateur.
“I just want to continue to play good golf,” he said. “Oakmont was a ridiculously hard course last year. I am more familiar with the Nemacolin (Country Club) course where the finals are this year.”
Pevarnik finished eighth in the state amateur, was 10th at the West Penn Amateur and took 12th at the West Penn Open in his first event playing with professionals.
“They give money to the top finishers,” he said of the West Penn Open. “I can't accept anything now, but I think I could have won like $2,000.”
Both also fared well in AJGA events.
Athletics and golf run in Pevarnik's family. His father, James, played on the golf team at Georgia and competed in the U.S. Amateur. His brothers went the football route. Ben is a lineman at Cal U, and Brian played running back at Westminster. James, Ben and Brian all went to Greensburg Central Catholic, where Brady went for a year before transferring back to Latrobe.
Like his father, Brady will play Division I college golf. He has given a verbal commitment to Kent State. He initially committed to Penn State but changed his mind later, following intuition like a caddie following a tee shot.
“Kent is two hours from my house, they have a top-15 program and great facilities,” he said.
Jackson is taking a different approach to recruiting. He is not visiting schools and being as proactive as many other players his age.
“A lot of schools are interested,” he said. “I am letting the pieces fall where they would. I might end up in the ACC or Big Ten. I know the college thing will take care of itself.”