A chance meeting with Ian Poulter was all it took to switch Sheffield born Joe Pagdin from soccer to golf. Later this month Pagdin will travel from his home in Florida to represent Team GB at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games.
Joe, 16., and fellow England player Lily May Humphreys are among 42 athletes selected by the British Olympic Association to compete in 17 sports at the Games, which run from the 6th–18th October.
He was a semi-finalist at the British Boys’ Championship, was in England’s winning teams at the Boys’ Home Internationals of 2017 and 2018 and has just helped GB&I beat continental Europe to win the Jacques Leglise Trophy. Humphreys is in the England Golf women's squad while Pagdin is a member of the boys' squad.
Team GB consists of athletes aged between 14 and 18 years old, with the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) playing a crucial role in the development of young athletes from the United Kingdom and across the world.
Buenos Aires 2018 is expected to welcome just under 4,000 of the world’s best young athletes from 206 nations for the third edition of the Games following Singapore 2010 and Nanjing 2014.
The Games will also make history through its commitment to gender equality by becoming the first Olympic event to host the same number of male and female athletes with 1,999 of each set to compete in Argentina.
Joining the athletes in Argentina will be 62 Athlete Role Models (ARMs) whose presence as Olympians at the Games will be to support, advise and inspire the young athletes.
Double Olympic taekwondo champion and Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic champion Jade Jones will feature as one of two ARMs from the UK with four-time Olympian and Rio 2016 gold medallist Helen Richardson-Walsh joining Jade in Argentina.
Yorkshire Golfer head the opportunity to find out more about young Joe and that meeting with his now best friend Poulter...
How old were you when you moved to the States with your family and what prompted that?
We moved to Orlando when I was 3, turning 4 years old. My family already had a vacation home, so we had a place to go live and to start out. My Dad wanted to move for a better standard of living, with more opportunities for me growing up, and of course the year-round nice weather! My parents tell me that if I was still living back home in Sheffield I would not have so many sports opportunities as I do here. I am an only child and they wanted to give me the best.
When and where did you start to play golf?
I first started playing golf at 4 years old and had a few lessons with the local pro. I actually used to play soccer on a competitive junior team, but that all changed when I met Ian Poulter in Subway one day! I have recounted this story many times over the years but its dead true. I had been playing football one Saturday morning and was in Subway with my Dad having a sandwich.
A guy pulled up in a red Ferrari outside revving the engine. He then came in to get a sandwich and I heard the English voice, I asked Dad who he was, and Dad told me he was a PGA Tour golfer. I went and got his autograph and we started talking about back home, football and so on. We spent a short while chatting and after I asked my Dad “how do I get a Ferrari like that”. He told me “become a tour golfer like Ian”. I immediately told my Dad I wanted to stop football and play golf instead. I then started playing golf seriously and in tournaments and within a few months I finished in the top 50 of the Junior World Championships at Pinehurst. I started having lessons with a better instructor at Lake Nona Golf Club which was 5 minutes from my house. Subsequently we bought a house in the Lake Nona community as I was travelling to practice before school and then after school. We figured since I was there practising all the time we might as well live there too! I am now best friends with Ian and his family, as well as being good pals with G-Mac, Henrik, Rosie and several other tour pros. I am also very close friends with Sam Horsfield, now on the European Tour and he moved from Manchester when he was the same age. People often confuse us as brothers as our stories are so similar and coincidentally we are both mates with Poults He also went to the University of Florida which is where I am going to go to college to play golf.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
The biggest influence on my career undoubtedly is my father Mark. My Dad actually wanted me to be a footballer like he was when he was younger, but he also played golf to a reasonable standard. He was a 4-handicap member at Hallamshire in Sheffield. He got me started more as a hobby then anything. But as I say then it all changed when I was 7 and met Poults. My Dad says it broke his heart when I stopped playing footy, but he has supported me 200% in my golf. To the point he no longer plays nowadays as he is always travelling with me and or supporting me with seeing coaches, club fittings, media interviews, playing for England and all the stuff needed for me to compete as a junior at the highest level.
The time input he gives to support me is incredible and people do not appreciate how much is sacrificed by golf parents and also how much it costs our parents. My Dad has always preached to me to keep improving in small steps and get better each year, so when it really counts at college and the time when turning pro, I will hopefully hit my peak. We have seen many good juniors come and go but he has always pushed me for steady improvement rather than peaks and troughs. My Dad has also always preached to me the value of etiquette and the value of friendships made through golf which he tells me might last 30 or 40 years.
You are heading to the Youth Olympics to represent Team GB. How does that feel?
Simply put in Yorkshire speak …” smashing “!!! I have had this on my radar since last year and knew I needed to be the top ranked GB&I U18 player in WAGR (World Amateur Golf Rankings) to get selected. This goal has therefore dictated a lot of my schedule this summer and to be honest I have sacrificed my USA ranking to pursue the ranking for the Olympics and also for the Junior Ryder Cup. However, the European selectors did not select me for that instead choosing to select lower ranked players for their own reasons. The Olympics is going to be a once in a lifetime experience and I feel rewarded for me setting a target and achieving it with consistency of my results in high profile men’s amateur events. I am a proud Englishman and always will be, even though I live overseas. I still feel the pride of being British when I come home especially to my home town of Sheffield. I think no matter how far away you move Yorkshire and England runs through your veins!
Do you have any interest in sport in the UK and do you support any teams?
Absolutely! I regularly follow the sports events back home and I am keen supporter of Sheffield United. My father and I watch most games on live streams but often we are left disappointed. In fact, in my study at home I have a big signed SUFC shirt framed from their promotion season. I have England head covers on my clubs too. So yes, I am a keen follower of events back home. I was glued to the tv watching the England matches in the World Cup this year.
You missed out on a spot in the junior Ryder Cup. That must have been disappointing?
Disappointing is a complete understatement. To be honest I was absolutely gutted. And I still am! As I said, I planned my whole year's schedule around the 2 big events and sacrificed my American ranking and the opportunity of playing in top events in the USA. Especially after I came tied 3rd at the Boys’ Amateur at Portrush, I felt that that, together with my top 100 WAGR ranking, would have got me in the Ryder Cup team. I would have been the 3rd ranked player on the team. But they chose players ranked 100+ and even 200+ places further down the rankings and to be honest I have to bite my tongue, since moaning won’t change it now. It’s sad because I won’t get another chance to play in the JRC as I will be too old in 2 years’ time.
What hurt more than anything, was only the week before they announced selections, they were asking my clothing measurements and told me they were going to ring all the players in their final consideration and that they would telephone us either way to confirm if we were selected or not. I never received any call or email and I found out via Twitter when my plane landed back in Orlando. I still have had no call or communication to this day. I felt so down as there was no logical reason for them not selecting me other than their own agenda. Thankfully the selection process for the Olympics was far more clear cut and it was simply the highest ranked U18 boy and girl. So that has given me something to really make my goal now, to come back with a medal for Team GB.
Will you take up a college scholarship in the US?
Yes, I will be going to play golf at the University of Florida in 2020. I committed to play there when I was 13 years old and they tell me I am the youngest player to ever commit to their golf programme. I have built a great relationship with Head Coach JC Deacon and he has been very supportive and been a good resource for golfing advice. He is very supportive of me travelling back home to play for my country and wants me to continue to do so.
Who is your favourite player?
Ian Poulter, for his drive and determination…and of course he’s my mate. Tommy Fleetwood, for him coming from obscurity and achieving a lot very quickly. I also love his swing and I work on a few of the same things as he does.
What are your short and long-term goals as a golfer?
Well, my short-term goals were the Olympics in Argentina and the Junior Ryder Cup, so I got 1 out of 2 on those. I want to come home with a medal but knowing how very good the other players going there are, I wouldn’t want to predict which type of medal. My other short-term goal is to crack the top 50 on the WAGR.
My next major goal is to hopefully make next year’s Walker Cup team for GB&I at Hoylake. Failing that the 2021 team, especially as it will be played in South Florida where I might have an advantage knowing the grass types.
Very long term I obviously would love to make it onto the PGA Tour, but even if I don’t I know I want a career doing something in the professional golf world. That is one of the reasons to go to UF as they do a major in sports management which might help me later on.
Do you think being based in the US gives you an edge when you travel to Europe to compete?
Truthfully, yes, I do believe it gives me an edge, in that in America I am regularly playing in very strong fields both junior and men’s amateur events, so I am used to knowing 1 shot here or there can make a big difference to your result. So, I guess I feel mentally quite strong. Also, especially in early season in Europe, I believe I have an advantage since I have been able to practice and play right through the winter in decent weather.
The playing conditions in Britain are very different so I must adapt quickly to the windy, cooler conditions and usually the tournaments I play are links courses so have to hit different shots to back in the USA. Prior to coming home, I will practice a lot of low shots and ¾ type shots to get ready for what is needed. I do absolutely love links golf, it is my favourite to play as it is a real learning experience with the weather, the early/late draw and the unpredictable bounces. It teaches patience and I feel I am slowly getting more patient each time I come home
What are your strengths as a golfer?
I have always been fairly consistent, and I don’t (hopefully) tend to have huge swings between rounds from say a 65 to an 80. I tend to score pretty consistently. I also can adapt fairly quickly to different conditions. Chipping and putting are the things I feel most confident with and are the strong points of my game. I try to practice 1/3 on long game and 2/3 chipping and putting and on scoring shots. Also, in respect of the Olympics I feel I am a good team player. As I have no brother or sisters I get a real kick out of playing with my mates for England or GB&I teams