RJ Manke is Making History This Summer Before Playing Final College Golf Season at Washington


 RJ Manke wanted to join the rest of his family in becoming a Washington Husky.

He had four great years of golf at Pepperdine and was part of a national title team this spring while also finishing his bachelor's degree, but was ready for something new in his final season of athletic eligibility.

When he entered the transfer portal, there was no doubt which school he would pick.

"My parents both graduated from (Washington), and met there while going to school," Manke, a Lakewood resident, said Sunday at Chambers Bay, where he is preparing for the prestigious Pacific Coast Amateur that starts Tuesday at the University Place course. "And my brother and sister graduated from there a couple of years ago. So I will be the fifth Husky in my family."

Talk about good fortune for UW men's golf coach Alan Murray. He didn't have to do much selling to get a player who is No. 10 all-time on Pepperdine's career scoring list (72.66), has two wins and eight top-10 finishes.

"It's not often a guy with his résumé and ranked as high as he is (No. 70 in the world amateur rankings) becomes available," Murray said. "He really and truly wants to come to Washington.

"It's a dream scenario for us. Adding RJ definitely makes us stronger. He's won individually and he played at Pepperdine, which just won a national championship. He has a level of experience that is extremely rare. He gets college golf and is an excellent student as well."

If there was any doubt as to what kind of player the Huskies were getting, Manke won the Washington Amateur by seven shots earlier this month with a three-round total of 15-under 201 at the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain Golf Club in Bremerton.

Manke, who also won the event in 2018, became the first person in 52 years to win the event twice.

"I had no idea until the interview coming off the 18th," Manke said of the historic  significance. "That was pretty cool. There have been a lot of people coming through Washington golf, and who have played in the state am (amateur), and to do it twice is awesome. To win any tournament once is a feat, and twice is really special."

That win moved him to a personal-best No. 70 in the world rankings. Good performances at the Pacific Coast Amateur and the upcoming Western Intercollegiate could move him into the top 50 of the world rankings, which would make him exempt for the U.S. Amateur in August.

That is Manke's only path to play in that tournament because he did not advance in qualifying.

"I am looking now (at the world rankings), because it's relevant and it can make a difference, but for the most part it doesn't really mean anything to me," he said.

But a top-70 ranking is heady stuff for a player who said, "I wasn't good enough out of high school" to play at Washington.

"I was pretty streaky in high school, up and down, so (coach) Michael Beard took a stretch on me at Pepperdine," Manke said. "If I kept going like I was in high school, I wouldn't have been much of anything at Pepperdine."

The consistency, a product of better ball-striking, came quickly at the picturesque college in Malibu, California, where he was joined a year later by Bellarmine Prep of Tacoma teammate Joe Highsmith.

It is also where PGA Tour player Andrew Putnam from University Place went to college, as well as his older brother Michael, who played on the PGA Tour.

As a sophomore, Manke won the West Coast Conference title, one of his two individual wins that season. This past season, he was ranked No. 38 in the country in the Golfweek/Sagarin ratings, and was Pepperdine's Scholar Athlete of the Year, graduating with a 3.65 grade-point average in business administration.

Perhaps the only bummer for Manke at Pepperdine was that after starting all season as a senior, he was not in the lineup in the NCAA regional and played just one round in the NCAA Championships.

Did that have to do with Manke entering the transfer portal? Manke took the high road on that question.

"It was a tough spot for everyone to be in because we had nine great players this year, and for anyone to make the lineup was pretty tough," he said. "Clearly, it worked out well. I'm sure there were factors here and there, but I can't say for certain. ... I never gave up on Pepperdine, there was still a lot on the line with the team."

Manke said he grew a lot as a golfer, student and person at Pepperdine, but is looking ahead. He was paired with new Husky teammate Teddy Lin in all three rounds of the Washington Amateur (Lin finished fourth), and those two stayed with Husky teammates Noah Woolsey and Taehoon Song during that event.

"It was great to get to know those guys," said Manke, who is entering a master's program in real estate at UW. "Everyone on the team knows that I have four years of college golf experience, but I am coming in as a new team member. I will kind of see how it goes and go with the flow. Just try to be a good friend to the guys."

Before heading to UW, Manke still has some big summer events, beginning with the Pacific Coast Amateur at Chambers Bay, Manke's favorite course and one he has played about 100 times.

He enters with a lot of confidence as a recent swing change ("My old swing was a lot of arms, and now it's more my core.") is paying off. The dream is to someday play on the PGA Tour. But that pursuit can wait.

"Everyone always says, stay in college as long as you can and ride that wave," Manke said. "I am really looking forward to get to Washington."