Irvine’s Own Lefty Golfer
Two years ago, we explored Chin’s days as a toddler practicing with a cut-down club his father made for him, to becoming Big West Freshman of the Year and Big West Player of the Year, consecutively.
“There are too many [moments] I would have to say,” Chin said jokingly while trying to think of his most special time at Irvine. “Winning the tournament my sophomore year because that was my first win.”
Fast forward to May 2010 and Chin still is on top of the Big West, in addition to the rest of the college golf world, ranking No. 1 in Golfstat Cup and sixth in Golfweek/Sagarin. Chin medaled for the third time in the Big West Conference tournament, finishing an astounding nine shots ahead of the closest competitor to him. He was the only one to shoot under par (-7) at Mission Viejo Country Club (54 hole-total), helping the Anteaters rout Pacific (second place) by 17 strokes.
“I didn’t really know until one of the photographers told me on the 18th [hole],” Chin said. “Once I saw I was nine [strokes] ahead I was like ‘wow!,’ Winning the whole thing [as a team] was the most important part, and winning [individually] was even double-special.”
Chin certainly has left a lasting legacy by winning the conference tournament, and cementing his status as one of UCI’s greatest athletes to ever walk through Crawford Hall.
“I really wasn’t expecting any of this,” Chin said, reflecting upon his career as an Anteater. “I played hard and worked hard since my freshman year winning Freshman of the Year, making it to Nationals my second year, and winning [Big West] Player of the Year accolades … all of it has been really cool.”
Now Chin, and the rest of the men’s golf team, will be preparing for next week’s NCAA Regionals at Carlton Oaks Golf Course in Santee, CA, where he hopes to bring home a possible national title since reaching the finals in 2008.
“We were successful in the Big West [Tournament] so we feel like we can do well and make it to the finals a second time,”Chin said. “I am just going to be focused when I start off at my first tee at Carlton Oaks.”
On a national level, Chin has been chosen to participate in the prestigious Palmer Cup beginning June 24-26, although Chin has never met the golf-great Arnold Palmer.
“I did meet Phil Mickelson though,” Chin remembered when UCI was paired with USD, where Lefty’s brother, Tim, coaches. “All of the sudden, I see this guy in the back [watching], and I was like Phil? I had to go up to him and meet him. I was kind of shaking a little bit though.”
Just as Phil competes in the Ryder Cup, Chin will also have an opportunity to add another notch on his belt, as he and seven fellow American teammates will play in Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush Golf Course, home to this year’s Palmer Cup event. Chin is the first UCI player to be selected to play in the illustrious tournament.
Chin plays with a Tiger-like swagger which he believes is one of the things that has helped him do so well on the golf course. Not a bad idea to emulate one of the all-time greatest golfers, on the green of course.
“I don’t try to boast about myself, but I play with a borderline cockiness,” Chin said. “Tiger plays the same way and that’s what I feel I need to do to play well. Some people see it in a bad way, but at the same time I’m a different person off the course.”
Chin will need his “borderline” attitude when he decides to turn pro this summer after the Palmer Cup. He will play in the qualifying round of the US Open on June 7.
“It’s a different challenge, different players, but I am looking forward to it,” Chin said. “It’s the right time for me to turnpro.”
The downside for any professional athlete is the daily wear and tear.
“I have traveled from state to state,” Chin said. “That’s the hardest part I hate the most. It’s really dreadful being away from friends and family, but then again I think about what I do and it’s worth it.”
Chin’s passion and love for the game of golf has been evident to Coach Paul Smolinski, whom Chin regarded as one of his best teachers.
“Coach Paul is very professional and respected. He pushed me at the right times to help me get better as a golfer,” Chin said.
Coach Smolinski will surely miss John Chin’s left-handed swing of beauty in years to come, but will hopefully gain UC Irvine national recognition as a golf power in the west.
Chin’s advice to the casual golfer: “Follow the ball,” something Chin will continue to do for many more years as his golf career continues to flourish.