King Koivun: Freshman phenom leads Auburn at NCAA Championship

AUBURN, Ala. – Golf, for Auburn freshman Jackson Koivun, was one of many sports he played as a kid.

“I started playing golf when I was really young but growing up, I played all the sports: football and basketball,” he said. “I think it helped me become an athlete.”

When Jackson’s growth spurt didn’t match those of his peers, he focused on golf.

“I started getting a little too small for football and basketball,” he said. “I decided golf was the best option. I was also probably a little better at golf than anything else. That was around eighth grade. Ever since then, it’s been my sole focus and what I do every day.”

Koivun’s focus and dedication helped him develop into the American Junior Golf Association’s No. 1 recruit in the class of 2023, opening doors to the college of his choice.

“He came to Auburn and he saw the community, our town and our facilities, and he fell in love with it,” Auburn coach Nick Clinard said. “We felt really good about him. I think his parents felt really good about us and what Auburn had to offer, and I think it sold itself.”

Even with his stellar junior golf resume, Koivun still needed time to adjust. Just a few months ago, nervous about making the travel roster, he met with his head coach.

“’Dude, you’re one of the best players in the country. Just go play,’” Clinard told Koivun. “I said, ‘Listen, if the van is cranked, there’s probably a good chance you’re going to be in it.’” 


From the get-go, Koivun has earned his spot in the van and in the lineup for the nation’s top-ranked team, an eight-time recipient of SEC weekly honors (five Freshman, three Player).

After earning his first individual win at the Pinehurst Intercollegiate in March in his home state of North Carolina, the Chapel Hill native played his best as the stakes got higher.

In April, he won medalist honors at the SEC Championship, beating the runner-up by six strokes.

“I soaked it in for about 30 minutes and then realized we’ve got a new tournament to play and go win one for the team,” said Koivun, who made good on that pledge by winning all three of his matches to lead the Tigers to the program’s fifth SEC championship.  

“He’s highly mature, highly competitive. He can flat-out play,” Clinard said. “He’s got bigger things on his list that he wants to accomplish.”


It’s a mindset really, trusting all the work you’ve put in, and the hours you’ve put in out here. If you don’t believe in yourself and all that work you do, then why are you putting in the work? That’s how I’ve built my own confidence.

Jackson Koivun

After beating Vanderbilt to claim the conference crown, the Tigers celebrated at Toomer’s Corner.

“It’s awesome. Another wave of support. It’s helping us get better,” said Koivun, who was named SEC Freshman of the Year and SEC Player of the Year. “Winning SECs was awesome and it’s a great experience for all of us, but now it’s in the past and we have to build off of that going into nationals.”

That they did, storming to the front by shooting 20-under-par on the final round to win the Baton Rouge Regional in mid-May. Koivun and fellow freshman Josiah Gilbert finished fifth in the regional, behind teammate Brendan Valdes, who was second.

In a hyper-individual sport, college golf allows participants to be part of a team.

“It’s such a different experience because you’re not only playing for yourself, you’re playing for a bunch of guys who are behind you, and for the university, especially a great one like Auburn,” Koivun said. “It’s definitely helped me. We all push each other to be better.”

“The more connected you are, the more committed you are,” Clinard said.


On his way to Carlsbad, California, to compete in the NCAA Championships, Koivun stopped Monday in Fort Worth, Texas, to receive his sport’s biggest prize, the 2024 Ben Hogan Award as the outstanding male amateur and collegiate golfer of the year.

After thanking his parents, coaches, teammates and the black-tie event’s organizers, Koivun congratulated his fellow finalists before concluding his remarks in Auburn style.

“War Eagle,” said Koivun, only the second freshman to win the Hogan Award.

Calm, cool and collected, a teenager who carries himself like a pro.

“It’s a mindset really, trusting all the work you’ve put in, and the hours you’ve put in out here,” said Koivun in early May at the Jack Key Golf Teaching Facility. “If you don’t believe in yourself and all that work you do, then why are you putting in the work? That’s how I’ve built my own confidence and how I bring my game every time.”

On Thursday, Koivun celebrates his 19th birthday. On Friday, he and the Tigers tee off in the first round at the Omni La Costa Champions Course, the final tournament in an epic freshman season.

“It’s gone by really fast,” Koivun said. “It’s been a great experience all year.”

If Auburn can finish in the top 15 after three rounds, the Tigers will play another round on Monday, needing to be among the top eight to advance to match play, where three more wins would be all that separate Auburn from a national championship.

“It’s super exciting,” said Koivun, whose team has won a remarkable six consecutive tournaments. “You can always talk about winning a national championship but once you get there you have to perform. Hopefully that’s what we’ll do.”

Even with his ever-growing notoriety, Koivun has – so far – been able to keep a low profile on campus. No autograph requests from fellow students.

“No, not yet,” he said. “Maybe if I win a national championship.”

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer