For most people, martial arts and golf have very little in common but for Ryan Pongrac, martial arts is the foundation of his golf game. At the ripe age of four, Pongrac began training with Master Carl Beams of Art Beins Karate. Though Beams rarely accepted students this young, Beams felt that Pongrac’s parents had a sound goal in mind – to create a successful child. Fast-forward ten years and Pongrac is now a “Sempai” or a second-degree black belt, and is considered an instructor-in-training at the age of 14.
“When most people think of martial arts, they see the kicks and punches. Those kicks and punches are simply an avenue for us to teach the most valuable lessons in life,” said Beams. “These kids learn about etiquette and respect and these are the small lessons that go a long way in life.”
It was those small lessons that prepared him to take up golf. At the age of five, Pongrac began working with Wayne Warms, PGA Professional and instructor at Eagle Oaks Golf Club in Farmingdale, N.J., to learn the game of golf with the help of the skills he had obtained through martial arts. Warms took an unconventional approach with Pongrac initially, teaching him to respect the game and its traditions before teaching him to actually play.
“By learning the history of the game first, he now respects the history and respects the game. Ryan is a model young man, the kind of kid you want. It’s been a lot of fun watching him grow, learn and mature along the way,” said Warms.
Pongrac and his parents, Robert and Laura, decided to explore tournament play through the IJGT’s Discovery Tour, a tour designed for juniors between the age of eight and 12 looking to gain tournament experience in a shortened, nine-hole format. Pongrac took first at the Discovery Tour at Blue Heron Pines by a commanding 10 strokes. Repeat success in Discovery Tour events led Pongrac to move into the IJGT’s Boys 14 & Under Division to compete in the full 36-hole events for the real tournament experience.
In the new division, he has placed in the top-10 in all four events played, including a recent first-place victory at the Metropolitan Junior at Forsgate Country Club in Monroe Township, N.J. Zach Pennington, the Northeast Regional Director of the IJGT, watched as Pongrac moved from the Discovery Tour events to the Boys 14 & Under Division, attesting to his marked improvement and success.
“[He] puts in the effort necessary and his passion for the game is clear,” said Pennington.
Success in the IJGT as well as success in nationally-recognized tournaments such as the Canadian Junior Golf Association’s Junior World Challenge and NJPGA Junior events has proved Pongrac’s talent and continues to expand his golf resume.
Impressed by Pongrac’s golf skill and academic record, the IJGA staff encouraged the Pongrac family to visit the IJGA and Heritage Academy. The tour included an inside-look at the elite-level golf training led by Director of Instruction, Kevin Smeltz, the facilities and the top-tier educational environment at the Heritage Academy. The IJGA extended a scholarship offer following the family’s visit.
“The IJGA proved to have the focus on both challenging golf and strong academics that we desired. The opportunity then presented itself and we are very happy for Ryan, this is what he is passionate about,” said father, Robert Pongrac.
Pongrac currently resides in the top 20 in the Boys 14 & Under IJGT Tour Rankings for the 2013-2014 season. He also holds the title of back-to-back Monmouth County Junior Champion in New Jersey. Pongrac will compete with fellow IJGT and IJGA juniors for the championship title at the Bridgestone Golf Tournament of Champions on May 24-26, 2014 at Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando, Fla.
The IJGA welcomes Ryan to the academy and like his extensive support system, we are eager to watch him grow in golf, in academics and in life.