Katz’s career path leads him to professional golf

Look out world

Reading the green for a golf putt. Reading an equation for a chemistry class.

The focus Jake Katz has shown in those athletic and academic endeavors not only produced an exemplary student-athlete, but culminated this spring with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a trip to the NCAA Golf Regionals in Virginia.

“Being a competitive golfer makes me a competitive student,” Katz says. “I not only want to be the best player on the team or the best player in the country, but I want to be the best student in my organic chemistry class. Hopefully, I’ll reap the benefits of both.”

Katz is putting his pursuit of dental school on hold to pursue a professional golfing career. He has good reason, as his statistics and accomplishments are impressive:

• Two-time America Sky Conference player of the year and America Sky scholar-athlete of the year as a junior.

• Twenty-five career Top 10 finishes, including five runner-up performances and an individual title at the Cornell Invitation this season.

• School records for lowest career average (74.29), lowest single-season average and lowest round relative to par.

• Featured in the April 8 edition of Golfweek magazine.

This spring, Katz became the first Bearcat golfer in Binghamton’s 10-year Division I history to receive an individual bid to the NCAA Regionals. He ended his collegiate career by finishing 42nd out of 75 golfers at the three-day event.

Katz, from Williamsville, N.Y., learned golf at age 8 from his grandmother in Florida. Despite the short Northeast season, he became “obsessed” and knew by eighth grade that he had a chance of playing golf in college. Despite finishing 13th in the New York State High School Championship, Katz was not recruited by Division I golf powers. He chose Binghamton University over Canisius and St. Bonaventure.

“Binghamton’s academics made the decision easy,” he says.

Earning a spot in the starting lineup and getting tournament experience was key for Katz in his first year.

“Not a lot of freshmen get to do that,” says Katz, who also credited former teammate Zach Vinal with helping him make the transition to college golf. “I think it helped give me confidence.”

More confidence would develop in Katz’s sophomore year, when Bernie Herceg became head coach. Besides tips for the course, Herceg stressed the importance of working on off-days and being the first player at practice and the last to leave.

“He pushed me harder than I was pushing myself,” Katz says. “It helped me progress and get better. … You have to be consistent and patient when you’re playing. I don’t think I understood that my freshman year. I toned it back, but was still aggressive when I could be.”

A successful junior season (including a 6-under 66 at the Lafayette Invitational) led Katz to play large amateur events before returning to Binghamton for his senior season. He finished second in the New York State Men’s Amateur Championship and, in what he considers his career highlight, shot a 64 in the second round of the Porter Cup, one of the world’s top amateur tournaments. Katz finished the Niagara Falls event tied for 10th place.

“Testing myself against high-level national competition boosted my confidence even more and showed me I could potentially play at the next level,” Katz says. “It’s good to see people noticing and saying that this kid from Binghamton can play golf.”

For Herceg, watching Katz grow and develop over the years has been special.

“What Jake has brought to the table for our golf program has been amazing,” says Herceg, whose team won the Cornell Invitational this season. “We can talk about all the records he broke, his articles in Golfweek magazine and all his awards, but it will be a very long time to find an individual like Jake Katz. He worked hard and developed into a top national player. … It didn’t matter if it was a tough course, raining or even snowing, his consistent scoring was a huge part of having our program be competitive and improve our rankings. He was a great leader on and off the course, and Binghamton University should be very proud to have such a leader in its athletic program.”

Katz says he has always been interested in science and, as an “analytical person,” was particularly intrigued by chemistry. His ability to work with his hands was just one factor that led him to pursue the dental school option.

“I’ve had a lot of dental work done – braces, root canals, implants. Going to see every kind of dentists in the last six years helped with the decision,” he says with a laugh.

Katz never underestimated the importance of being a solid student-athlete. Playing a sport that requires a lot of travel around the country forced him to properly manage his time. Many college golf tournaments are on Monday and Tuesday, he says, so the team would often leave on Saturday and practice at the course on Sunday. “That’s basically four days that I have little time to study,” he said.

Katz’s work ethic and high grade-point average were an inspiration to teammates, Herceg says.

“Many times on our golf trips away, I would see Jake in the late evenings in the hotel lobby with his laptop out and doing his school work after just competing in a 36-hole event, which would be about 11 hours on the golf course,” he says.

Now a Binghamton alumnus, Katz continues to play amateur events this summer before turning pro in September. He plans to move to either Florida or North Carolina and take part in the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament. This could lead to spots in either the PGA Tour or its developmental tour, The Nationwide Tour.

“Believing in myself and being patient are the biggest things,” Katz says of the keys to his pro golf success. “A lot of people will be giving me advice. Trusting myself has gotten me this far and I think it will keep allowing me to progress.”

If golf doesn’t work out, Katz can look to his Binghamton University education and renew his hopes of dental school.

“Binghamton has been a huge part of my life,” he says. “I’ve met friends and I think I’ve grown a lot here with golf and academics in my life. Binghamton is obviously a remarkable university.”