By ED PUSKAS
During 2012, Jason Kokrak made more than $750,000 and established himself as one of the top 125 players on the PGA Tour with a late-season surge — including a tie for second place in the Frys.com in October.
But ask Kokrak about his most memorable moments on a golf course and he mentions the back-to-back Ohio high school state tournaments he and his Warren JFK teammates won in 2000 and ’01 and his back-to-back Ohio Amateur titles in 2006 and ’07.
In short, Kokrak hasn’t forgotten his roots, which is one reason Covelli Enterprises, Inc., owner Sam Covelli has invested in his PGA Tour career. Kokrak and Allen Ryan, Covelli’s director of corporate affairs, spoke about the sponsorship agreement during a Friday news conference at the company’s Warren headquarters.
“It’s not only going to help out with expenses on the tour, but it’s great that I’ll be able to help out with what Covelli Enterprises represents,” said Kokrak, who was 119th with $750,221 on the PGA Tour’s 2012 money list. “Mr. Covelli has always helped out in the community. [This partnership] is going to be great for my efforts and for me to help with what he represents and for me to represent Warren and northeastern Ohio.
“He’s a great individual and a great guy. I’m looking forward to a longstanding relationship.”
Ryan politely declined to reveal the exact amount Covelli has put into his sponsorship of Kokrak. The Warren native, Ryan said, will wear the Panera Bread logo on his golf shirts during the 2013 season.
Ryan said Kokrak’s talent on the course and character on and off the links helped make the partnership happen.
“When you’re looking at forming these partnerships with people it’s important to make sure and you want to be partnered with people that have great character and Jason has great character,” Ryan said. “As Ask anyone who knows him and they’ll tell you — he is an even better person than he is a golfer. He is going to fit right in with our company.” Kokrak’s season will begin Jan. 10-13, when he will return to Honolulu’s Waialae Golf Course for the Sony Open, the tournament in which he made his PGA Tour debut almost a year ago. Kokrak made the cut in that first tournament.
“I made three up-and-downs to make the cut at Sony and my caddie said he hadn’t seen anything like it,” Kokrak said.
But Kokrak — long known as a tremendous ball striker — admittedly struggled at times during his rookie season, when his usual strengths deserted him for stretches.
“I did struggle off the tee,” Kokrak said. “My putting actually saved me.”
Kokrak later got back into a good rhythm off the tee and with his irons and the results were evident during the Frys.com Open, Oct. 11-14 in San Martin, Calif., where he finished tied for second with Tim Petrovic at 15-under par. They trailed winner Jonas Blixt by only one stroke.
Perhaps the biggest highlight for Kokrak that weekend was an eagle on No. 17 at CordeValle Golf Club.
“My brother said he put a hole in the wall at his house watching that,” Kokrak said.
Kokrak, who played that final round with Vijah Singh, said he learned about himself that weekend.
“It was a big confidence builder,” he said. “I showed myself I could do it under pressure. Now, hopefully, I can take the next step and win a tournament.”
Toward that end, Kokrak has gleaned advice from some PGA Tour veterans, including Jim Furyk.
“Jim is one of the all-time great guys,” he said. “There’s been a number of guys I’ve been able to play with and talk with. I played nine holes with Graeme McDowell. ... I played a practice round with Ernie Els.”
Some of the tour’s biggest names play their practice rounds with other golfers they know well.
“Phil [Mickelson] and guys like that have people they usually play with,” Kokrak said. “And Tiger [Woods], you never see him. Tiger’s a complete ghost.”
But Kokrak is a player you can expect to see more of in 2013. Covelli Enterprises, in fact, is banking on it.
Ryan said Sam Covelli was in Florida on Friday and unable to attend the news conference, but the owner previously issued a statement.
“We are excited to be partnering with Jason Kokrak,” Covelli said. “I have followed his career since his high school days at Warren John F. Kennedy and have always been impressed with him both on and off the golf course. I look forward to him representing our company this year and watching him as he continues his rise as one of the best young players in golf.”