By Julia Pine
Web Content Manager, SCGA
Most athletic directors aren’t looking for golf coaches with zero organized golf experience, but maybe they should consider it. Servite High School in Orange County has grown into one of the top men’s golf programs in the state of California, finishing second at last year’s state championship. The five-team, 60 athlete program is led by Head Coach Dane Jako, who prior to coaching at Servite had no formal golf experience, playing or coaching.
“I had been around [the game], but any experience in a formal capacity or any experience coaching in any way, none,” said Jako, who is currently in his 15th year at Servite. “I was working as the PE teacher for about two or three years when the athletics director at the time called me in and said ‘you’re the new golf coach.’”
Jako inherited a program with moderate success, some good players, and solid seasons on its resume, which began teeing it up all the way back in the 1950s when the school was established. But it was by no means an elite program.
According to Jako, the biggest changes that needed to be made were in the school’s mindset toward golf. The team was a typical high school program at the time, consisting of a two-month season, which, when it was over, wasn’t discussed until the following year. That changed when Jako took the helm.
“I think I brought a football mentality, a year-round type of attitude,” said Jako, who also spent a number of his years at Servite coaching the football team. “Other sports are year-round, and I tried to bring that to the golf program in terms of fitness, preparation and constant contact between coaches and players. That’s the key.”
Now in his 13th season as head golf coach, Jako’s attitude about year-round commitment to both the program and his players hasn’t changed a bit. Ten years ago he began caddying for his players during the summer, hoping to learn the way each of them thinks out on the golf course. Having played golf only casually himself, Jako knows he’s not going to help any of these kids with their golf swing. What he can help them with is golf course management.
“My background in education has a little bit of sports psychology in it, so I brought that into the program,” said Jako.
One of the most important things he’s taught the kids who have come through his program? “Par’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s usually a good thing,” said Jako. “If these kids can stay away from the double and triple bogeys, we’re going to win the majority of our matches.”
Jako finds the best way to help his players stay away from high numbers on their scorecards is to gain their trust and help them with their thought process. In addition to caddying for his players, he has also been known to travel with them and often watches them play their non-school-related events. That way, he can ask them “what was your thought process on that shot” or “why did you do that on the course” before they even begin their next season on his team.
Once the season is under way, Servite plays an impressive schedule, playing often, traveling far, spending the night on the road and competing against tough schools on above-average courses. The school’s JV schedule is comparable to other school’s varsity schedule, so all 60-men on the roster get valuable experience once the season has started, experience that bodes well for them when they move on to collegiate golf.
“Servite prepared me so well for my time at UCLA,” said Preston Valder, who made a name for himself while playing for Jako and is now in his freshman season at UCLA. “We played so many matches and tournaments, which really helped me fine-tune my game. It also helped me learn how to communicate well with my teachers, letting them know when I was going to be gone and how I would make up the work.”
The 53-year-old coach often gets calls from other high school coaches who ask him how he gets his players, like Valder, to buy into the program like he does. It isn’t typical for high school golfers to give up AJGA events to play high school golf, but because Jako’s players see his dedication to them, he gets that time and dedication back. Jako is proud to be able to say that he has never had a player miss a golf match.