Last Updated: Thu Nov 11, 2021 - 12:49AM
When discussing the greatest golfer in Western Pennsylvania history, there is no debate that distinction belongs to Arnold Palmer. A golfer named in his honor – Palmer Jackson – has been carving his own path to greatness, however, initially at Franklin Regional High School, and now at the University of Notre Dame. Jackson, who is currently among the best competitors in the NCAA, is this week’s feature athlete for the Westmoreland Alum Q&A.
Jackson established himself immediately at Franklin Regional, as he ranked among the best golfers in the WPIAL and the state as a freshman. In 2015, he tied for fifth place in the WPIAL Class AAA Individual Championship, as he fired a four-over 76 at Southpointe Golf Club. From there, he advanced to the PIAA Western Regional, and ultimately, the PIAA Championship at the Heritage Hills Golf Resort in York. In that two-round competition, he shot 153, which was 11 shots over par and placed him in a tie for seventh.
The next year, Jackson fired a round of 77 at the WPIAL championship at Oakmont Country Club. Finishing six over par, he tied for 10th place, and again qualified for the state competition. Returning to Heritage Hills, he tied for ninth with a total score of 154, which was 12-over par.
As a junior in 2017, Jackson finished in third place in the WPIAL event at Nemacolin Country Club, as he shot a two-over par 72. In the PIAA Championship, Jackson finished in a tie for second, as he totaled a two-over par 144. His scoring average per nine holes for the season was 35.1.
In his senior year, Jackson tied for third in the WPIAL Championship at Oakmont, as he shot a five-over 76. However, in the state final, he shot a two-round total of 140, which was two-under par, to capture the PIAA Class AAA Individual Championship. He finished his season with a scoring average of 34.8 strokes per nine.
In addition to his accomplishments on the course, Jackson was also a key contributor for the Franklin Regional baseball team, excelling as a pitcher for the Panthers.
His future was always in golf, though, as he matriculated to Notre Dame in 2019. As a freshman, he made history, as he was a regular in the lineup for the Fighting Irish team that established a new record for season stroke average. Additionally, he averaged 70.79 per round, which was the second-best mark in team history. Moreover, he took first place at the Quail Valley Intercollegiate. For his outstanding year, Jackson was nominated for the 2020 Phil Mickelson Award, which honors the NCAA’s top freshmen.
During the 2021 season, which was limited to spring only, Jackson had a stroke average of 71.67 over a total of 21 rounds, which was the sixth-best average in Notre Dame history. He also propelled the team to a breakthrough campaign, as the Fighting Irish reached the NCAA Regional for the first time since 2012. For his success, Jackson was recognized as a 2021 Ping DI All-Region Team selection.
So far this year, Jackson has posted four finishes in the top five, including winning at the Stephens Cup. Over 18 rounds, he has posted a scoring average of 69.29. As a result, he was one of 15 golfers named to the Fall Fred Haskins Award Watch List, an honor that is the college golf equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
With the season on break between the fall and spring, Palmer took time to answer questions about his best attribute on the course, the significance of playing baseball at Franklin Regional, and a little-known fact about him.
Q: How have you grown from your freshman year at Notre Dame to now?
A: I had the talent to succeed at the highest level of collegiate golf as a freshman, but my thinking was very results-based. Now, because of making that mistake, I am much more focused on the process of getting better. This has allowed me to focus on the things that are going to make me the best player I can be down the road.
Q: What is your best attribute as a golfer?
A: My creativity is my best attribute about my game. I love playing different types of shots from anywhere on the course. I like to work the ball both ways, and having that creativity gives me the opportunity to play a variety of shots.
Q: How did you react to winning the Quail Valley Collegiate event as a freshman?
A: Winning at Quail Valley was definitely the highlight of my freshman year at Notre Dame. However, I was much more excited that the team won by one than I was that I won the individual event. Our team my freshman year was very talented, and finishing our fall season off with a win was the part that was most exciting for me. Unfortunately, our spring season was cut short, but the team win at Quail Valley will always be a great memory for my teammates and me.
Q: What team and individual goals did you set for this year?
A: Although our team didn’t set results-oriented goals for this year, we obviously have things that we want to achieve as a team and individually. Our team and individual practices are designed to be very challenging. The idea is that if we each take care of business at practice and do everything we can to be the most prepared team at each tournament, that will lead us to the greatest success as a team and individually.
Q: Unlike most other sports, college golf spans two different seasons. What are the challenges in that?
A: Having two seasons is a unique challenge that collegiate golf provides. Typically, the fall season is shorter, and always seems to fly by. Since Notre Dame is located in northern Indiana, we do a lot of traveling to play down south in January and February in order to have the best chance of winning in the spring. The spring season is typically longer and includes the postseason events in late April and May (ACC Championship, NCAA Regionals, NCAA Finals). Additionally, it is important to conserve energy throughout the spring season, as the travel, golf, and missed school can certainly take its toll.
Q: What has been your favorite course that you've played?
A: That’s a tough one. It's a toss-up between Augusta National and The Alotian Club in Arkansas.
Q: What led to your decision to attend Notre Dame?
A: I wanted to make as strong of an impact on a program as I could during my four years in college. When I was being recruited, Notre Dame had all the resources to be a great program. They just hadn't broken through and made the leap to be a top 25 team in the country. I felt that I could have a lasting impact on the program at Notre Dame and help change its trajectory. Additionally, Notre Dame has high level athletics and academics, and both of those things were extremely important factors in my decision process.
Q: What is your major, and ideal future profession?
A: I’m in the Mendoza College of Business and my major is business analytics. Professional golf is my ideal future profession.
Q: You were named to the All-ACC Academic Team as a sophomore. What was the significance of that to you?
A: Being on the All-ACC Academic Team shows me that I was able to not only focus and excel in golf, but also to take care of business in the classroom, as well. In my experience, good golf is usually a byproduct of doing good things off the course. Strong academics will always be important to me, and being named to the All-ACC Academic Team is an award that I am proud of.
Q: What was your fondest high school memory?
A: My fondest high-school memories are the spring training baseball trips to Vero Beach, Florida. It was always a fun week with my friends competing against some of the best high-school teams across the country.
Q: You also excelled in baseball at Franklin Regional. Have you been able to stay active in that sport at all?
A: Unfortunately, my baseball career ended when I left Franklin Regional. I haven’t played much at all since I’ve been at Notre Dame, other than tossing a ball around with my friends. Pitching was definitely a huge part of my success on the golf course, because it forces you to develop a winning mindset. Pitching also brought out my creative side, as it allowed me to throw unique pitches and outsmart the hitter. While I haven’t been able to play baseball since my senior year of high school, it was great to see the Franklin Regional baseball team and some of my previous teammates win the WPIAL Championship this past spring.
Q: If you could play a round with anyone, past or present, who would you choose and why?
A: I would play with my dad and Arnold Palmer. My dad is the person who taught me the game and played with me every day when I was younger. I’ll always cherish the nights at Murrysville Golf Course when we would bring a bag of golf balls and a wedge out at dusk. For an hour or so, I would hit shots to the green. My dad would stand on the green, fix the pitch marks, and throw the balls back to me. As for my other choice, I never met Mr. Palmer, but much of what I do is from what I learned from reading about him. Mr. Palmer was one of the best people to walk this earth. One round with the King would be more than special.
Q: What is your favorite social media app?
A: I try to stay off social media as much as possible, but I oftentimes find myself looking at Twitter checking for updates about the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Q: What is a hidden talent you possess or a little-known fact about you?
A: A little-known fact about me is that I am a weather fanatic. I love reading books and watching videos about the weather. The weather is fascinating to me because there’s always something new to see and more to learn.