Eastlake grad talks turning pro, growing up golfing in Sammamish | Reporter Q and A

Kevin Penner sits down with reporter Josh Suman to chat about his time on the golf course, from childhood in Sammamish to turning professional.

Before Kevin Penner was named UNLV Sportsman of the Year, or won the Mountain West Conference collegiate golf championship, he was a 2009 graduate of Eastlake High School, and spent his childhood on the courses around the Eastside and near his family’s Sammamish home.

Penner was a standout during his time with the Rebels, winning a number of tournaments both collegiately and at invitationals, including the 2012 Sahalee Players Championship back in the Pacific Northwest.

He was the runner-up at the NCAA National Championships as a senior in 2013, after winning the conference title, and earned All-America honors in addition to his own school’s highest athletic distinction.

After finishing his time at UNLV, Penner recently turned pro, and will head to Q-School in only a few weeks to take his turn at cracking the Web.com Tour and eventually earning enough money to make the PGA Tour.

He won his first professional event recently on the Adams Golf Pro Tour Series, taking the Firekeeper Classic in Mayetta, Kan. by four strokes and pocketing a handsome $13,175 for his troubles. Penner took some time to chat with the Reporter between stops along the Kansas highway as he headed to his next event to talk about life as a pro, his time growing up around the game in Sammamish and his turning point as a player during his days at Eastlake High School.

ISSAQUAH-SAMMAMISH REPORTER: What has been the biggest change from college to playing as a professional?

KEVIN PENNER: It’s different from college, traveling with a team and having your buddies with you. I’ve been on the road by myself, taking 15-hour car rides. I enjoy it, it’s been a lot of fun so far. I have a lot of fun traveling. This is what I’ve been wanting to do.

REPORTER: How exciting was it to pick up your first win as a professional?

PENNER: I had my caddie David Flynn on the bag and he’s going to caddy to me when he gets done with school. We work great together and he just kept me calm and comfortable. I was super relaxed the whole week and I just kept making birdies. That’s not something I’m used to, having a big lead. To be able to hold the lead the whole time felt great. It’s a great way to start out, right out of college getting that win right off the bat.

REPORTER: How did you get your start on the golf course?

PENNER: I played growing up with my parents and also played baseball. My dad told me I had to kind of pick one and stick with it because it was affecting both. I don’t know what it was, I just enjoyed golf. It wasn’t work or practice, it was just having fun with it. We got a membership at The Plateau Club and moved there so I could practice every day. I had a lot of fun playing golf and I still have fun playing golf. It’s nice to be able to do something you enjoy for a living and not see it as work.

REPORTER: Were you a naturally accomplished player, or was there a time when you really started dedicating yourself to the craft of golf?

PENNER: One thing that sticks with me is we had a really good team my freshman year at Eastlake. My freshman year it was a battle and I didn’t even make the district tournament. I worked my butt off that whole winter and when state came around in the spring, I went and played a junior national tournament myself and took third. All that hard work was where I realized if you apply yourself, you can earn things even though they aren’t given to you. I won state my sophomore year and that winter after my freshman year was what really kept me going.

REPORTER: What is the next step after the Adams Tour?

PENNER: I start Q-School in the fall. There are four stages to complete. The top-18 in the first three stages to advance to the finals, where the top 45 get to play on the Web.com tour. From there, you try to earn enough money to earn your way on to PGA Tour. Otherwise, I will play smaller events and get ready for next year

REPORTER: What is your message to young people thinking about getting into golf?

PENNER: I would just say to have fun with it and continue to work hard. When things aren’t given, you have to work that much harder and it is better to earn something than have it given to you.