Knight sees preparations pay off, builds momentum for Rutgers

<p>Sophomore Toks Pedro has seen a drop in his score by three strokes already this season, but is still striving for further success and improvement.</p>

Sophomore Toks Pedro has seen a drop in his score by three strokes already this season, but is still striving for further success and improvement.

Incredible people have incredible stories.

The Rutgers men’s golf team certainly has some talent on its roster, but the Scarlet Knights’ top player might not be one who you would expect. 

He doesn’t have a big personality. He simply has a quiet, laid-back demeanor. This Knight is a leader, but he lets his actions speak louder than his words. His play on the course does the talking for him.

The story of Toks Pedro begins a long way from Piscataway. It starts in Maryland, where Pedro was born. But soon after, he and his family moved to Nigeria. 

The sophomore began playing golf when he was 9 years old and learned the game from his father.

“I started at age 9 and I was introduced by my dad,” Pedro said. “He’s been playing golf regularly for the past 20-plus years, so since before I was born. I never really was interested in joining him until one day, I was like, ‘Let me just see how this is.' From them on, I really enjoyed it and I never stopped playing.”

Pedro lived in Nigeria for 13 years, but he still had family in Maryland, so he would travel to the United States to visit them nearly every year.

“It’s a huge change in culture, it’s a very different culture,” Pedro said. “Luckily, I was actually born in Maryland. My parents were there at that time. But my parents are fully Nigerian and we moved back to Nigeria and I stayed there for 13 years. I also had family in Maryland and I always went to visit almost every year.”

Because he came to the United States often, Pedro had an easier time adjusting to a new environment when he moved back to American soil.

“It wasn’t really a shock coming to permanently live here,” he said. “You know, I’ve already experienced the culture. I’ve seen what it’s like, but the biggest difference is just like the way of life. … Obviously, America is definitely more developed for the most part. I just had to adjust slightly to the difference in culture and just embrace where I was living.”

Moving to the United States made Pedro a better golfer because he now had more access to better courses and facilities than the ones in Nigeria.

“It gave me access to better golf,” Pedro said. “In Nigeria, there’s not very many golf courses and not very many good ones either and not very much competition, especially in the junior ranks. So coming to America allowed me to really improve my game because of the access to golf courses, as well as compete with high-level golfers that were my age.”

Pedro said the main thing he misses from home is his family.

“Mostly family,” he said. “But that’s about it, just family. I don’t think it was too much of an adjustment for me other than not seeing people I used to see every day. I’ve been away from home for the last six years since I moved to the U.S. at 13. … Obviously, as time goes, you realize it would be cool to have family around sometimes, but it’s something that you get used to and I guess that’s the biggest thing.”

Pedro graduated Hilton Head Preparatory School in 2014 and decided to continue his golf career at the collegiate level. He chose Rutgers in large part because of the coaching staff.

“Rutgers, in general, is a big school,” Pedro said. “Definitely one of the top schools in the country. The biggest things that helped me make my decision was the coach and the fact that we just moved into the Big Ten and all (head coach Rob Shutte) talked about was investing the program to become an elite golf program and we’re slowly improving and slowly getting there."

Pedro was up for the challenge that Shutte presented him.

"That was a challenge that I was excited to join, especially when I saw coach Shutte as a great mentor for us and a great coach for us. He had a vision for the program to get better.”

Shutte knew Pedro was a special player the moment he first met him.

“He stood out like a sore thumb in so many things when you just look at him,” the fourth-year head coach said. “When he was on the driving range next to all of the other juniors his age, you could be someone from a different planet and come down on that driving range and be able to pick (Pedro) out in two seconds. There was a lot of coaches interested in him. I think a lot of them, I don’t know if they were nervous or kind of sticking with the status quo because of the dual citizenship in Nigeria.”

Pedro’s swing stood out to Shutte.

“The kid was 6-foot-2 and was hitting like a two-yard draw every time with every club,” Shutte said. “It was smooth. He looked like a professional out there amongst boys. Now, he still isn’t a professional, but amongst all the other juniors, it was plain and simple. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t have flaws in his game. When I was recruting him, he still has a hitch in his putting stroke, he has different things in his short game and decision making. But from a ball striking stand point it, you knew he was just so special.”

Pedro is one of the team’s most consistent players and his score counts toward the team’s total in nearly every event.

“(He) really helps a lot,” said senior teammate Jonathan Chang. “He’s probably one of the best ball strikers I’ve ever seen in my entire life. We rely on him a lot. He’s just a very solid player and he’s worked his butt off this summer and it’s showing right now. Phenomenal player."

Chang noted that the future looks bright for the underclassman. 

"Maturity level-wise, with all these tournaments coming in, I think he gonna really get it and he’s gonna win couple tournaments in his college career," Chang said. "We just know he’s gonna get better."

The sophomore has been working hard to better his game in the last few years and has already lowered his score by three strokes.

“I’ve been able to really put in a lot of work over the last seven years,” Pedro said. “Constantly practicing, constantly playing golf. That helped me get to where I am right now. Still, I’m trying to improve, I’m trying to become a much better player. Relative to last year, I’ve definitely made huge improvements. My scoring average has gone down about three strokes already and in golf, that’s a huge difference.”

Pedro’s goal now is to become one of the best golfers in the country.

“I still have a lot of strokes to go to be one of the top players in the country,” he said. “That’s the goal, slowly progressing, and that’s what’s been happening. ... My next goal is to start contending at every single tournament, which is starting to happen, and become actually a top golfer in the country."

For updates on the Rutgers men’s golf team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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