This past month, Sean Packer capped his collegiate golfing career with the Western Washington Vikings with a third-place performance at the NCAA Division II men’s golf tournament.
And although the finish is significant for the Auburn Riverside graduate, it’s just another milestone in a golfing career that began almost 20 years ago at Lake Tapps.
“I’ve been playing once a week since I was 5,” said Packer, who’s now 23. “I’ve been playing at Sumner Meadows since I was 12. My dad (Paul Packer) golfed and had Mondays off of work. I’ve been hanging out on the golf course with him since I was 3.”
It was love at first swing.
“Within a year I was fully devoted to one sport,” he said. “I was always a really big sports fan, I just never caught on to any of the other sports.”
Soon, Packer was competing in Washington Junior Golf tourneys.
“I started when I was 9,” he said. “I was always close to the top (at the state tourney). I had a second place finish when I was 11. That was my first really big statewide finish.”
By the time he hit high school, Packer was one of the better golfers in the state.
As a Riverside sophomore in 2001, he finished third at both the Washington Junior Golf Championships and the state 4A high school championships.
The next year, Packer, along with the rest of the Ravens, did even better, winning the 4A state title, Auburn Riverside’s first state team championship.
“It’s very cool to be a part of the history of the school,” he said. “I was watching the girls basketball team win the state title this past season, and when they mentioned that it was the second state title for the school – the first being golf in 2002 – it felt really good. It’s just a really proud feeling to represent the school, as well as all the good golf courses we have in the area.
”While attending Auburn Riverside, Packer also helped the Ravens claim three straight South Puget Sound North golf titles in 2001, 2002 and 2003.
After graduating in 2003, Packer headed to Bellingham to play for the Vikings.
Playing right away
Bucking the common practice to redshirt incoming freshmen, Packer made the team’s traveling squad in the No. 5 spot.
Packer said his first collegiate season was a real wake-up call.
“It showed me how talented and consistent you had to be to compete at the college level,” he said.
Packer redshirted as a sophomore “to concentrate on my consistency.” It paid off when he returned to competition as a junior and made the NCAA Division II honorable mention All-American team.
Packer qualified for the NCAA D-2 nationals by notching the lowest individual round at the regional tourney. He placed 35th at nationals.
In 2007, Packer became team captain, learning a valuable lesson in leadership guiding the team through a season full of adversity.
“We recruited a lot of young players to fill the team,” he said, adding that “school and the whole college experience” took its toll. The Vikings fell short of making nationals.
So this season, Packer said he was happy with the caliber of the recruiting class, which included Thomas Jun from Todd Beamer High School.
“We were really happy,” Packer said. “Early on, right out of the gates, we came out and did well. I felt a lot less pressure this season. We were a great team, had fun and got along pretty well through the season. As the captain of this team, I was really proud of the way we handled adversity and the pressure.”
Some of that adversity came at the regional competition in Petaluma, Calif., where the Vikings came in hot off a win at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tourney.
“That was really the turning point for me. My season was on the bubble,” Packer said.
Coming into the final day of the tourney sitting in 19th place, Packer birdied four of his first six holes, posting a 2-under-par 70 to take ninth and help Western advance to the national tourney with an at-large berth.
At the national tourney in Houston, Packer wound up third with a 1-under 279 and helped the Vikings tie with Indianapolis for eighth place.
“I was really consistent all four rounds. I was always within a shot or two of the lead throughout the whole tourney,” he said.
With his collegiate career behind him, Packer will graduate this year and work as a marketing intern for firm in Bellingham.