The work-from-home trend gave Sean Zak a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make his dream job even more magical.
Five years ago, the former three-sport athlete from Sturgeon Bay made his UW-Madison journalism peers and golf-addict roommate jealous when he landed a full-time position at GOLF Magazine. At first, his chores included writing captions and filling other “nooks and crannies” for the magazine, but that grew to pumping in content for GOLF.com.
This year, Zak has a workplace worthy of envy from golfers worldwide: He rented a flat in St. Andrews. He’s also been flying from Scotland to pro events and meetups with the world’s best golfers when he’s not editing video, covering tournaments in the UK, doing interviews, corresponding online and writing in his apartment.
For an ongoing GOLF.com project, Zak has spent his mornings walking around, golfing, meeting people and filing twice-weekly essays, internet posts, photos and observations about the locale known as the “cradle of golf.”
So how did Zak go from shooting threes for the Sturgeon Bay Clippers to shooting videos – and this spring, gaining two cover-story bylines – for GOLF? He said he got turned down for about nine out of 10 internships he sought as a junior, but he got lucky when he landed a 10-week internship with GOLF in New York City.
“I really fell in love with magazine journalism,” he said. “I came back to school to finish my final year at Madison and begged GOLF magazine to have me back. They were able to extend a seven-month temporary gig to me that got extended to 11 months, that got extended to a staff position.”
During his UW-Madison years, Zak wrote for the Badger Herald college newspaper, and he also relished writing for the Peninsula Pulse and Door County Living.
“I really do love Door County,” he said. “I miss Door County and have seen other aspects of it that I’d love to write about.”
However, Zak is completely committed to his wide variety of GOLF duties. His production abilities, flexibility and other capabilities led him to write the June cover story on four-time major tourney winner Brooks Koepka and, next, the rising star of 2022, Masters winner Scottie Scheffler.
“I probably write four or five days a week for the website, and I probably get one story per issue in the magazine,” Zak said. “The stories have gotten bigger and more prominent. A few years ago, I would really get excited to have a 600-word story in the magazine, and that’s what I was capable of doing well at that point in my life.”
He said he enjoys always “having a new story to get to,” whether that’s writing profiles or covering the controversy about stars such as Phil Mickelson joining the rogue LIV golf tour.
“The most recent cover is a story on Brooks Koepka and what we can learn from him,” Zak said. “He’s a pretty enigmatic golfer. He speaks his mind, and he wants you to speak your mind with him. He has extremely blunt, straightforward conversations with his team, whereas a lot of PGA pros want people who are ‘yes men’ and ‘yes women’ around them. If anything is wrong, he wants you to tell him.”
For the July cover on Scheffler, Zak built a foundation from a question-and-answer piece after the Masters. He then went in depth, talking to lots of people who know Scheffler very well, from his wife and parents to his college coach and trainer.
“He’s an extremely talented, competitive, down-home Texas boy who has just become the best golfer in the world this year,” Zak said.
Zak has also gained golf skill through his work recording golf-advice videos, in which tour stars try to teach him something.
“I don’t play full rounds with the tour pros, but I do get tips from them – hands-on tips for a piece we’ve created this year, Pros Teaching Joes. I’ve gotten wedge tips from Dustin Johnson and driver tips from Matthew Wolff and wedge tips from Xander Schauffele,” Zak said.
He said he has built a working relationship with golfers such as Schauffele, the Olympic gold medalist and member of the Ryder Cup team that dominated the Europeans at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits. They’re not close friends, but Zak likes that they can chat about “anything or nothing at all.”
“It always makes for really fun video,” he said of the short instructional segments. “Tour pros might not be able to eloquently speak on geopolitical issues, but they know how to play golf really well, and they know how to fix golf swings really well.”
Zak’s web posts often reflect the happiness he observes among golf fans, whether that’s people seeing Pebble Beach for the first time, golfers camping all night for tee times at great courses, spectators lining the 18th green simply to watch average golfers finish rounds at the Old Course at St. Andrews for the first time, or fans walking into Augusta National in 2022.
“It’s great. It’s always great,” Zak said of Augusta. “It’s a magical piece of sports property that I learn something new about every time I go back there. It was the sixth Masters I’ve been at. It’s like reading an old book that you’ve read before, but somehow in some way you remember the details better this time than you did in the previous five times.”
In 2020, there were no spectators at Augusta, and in 2021, the friend-of-a-friend country-club members and celebrities constituted the audience.
“In 2022, it went back to normal,” Zak said. “Frankly, it’s the happiest place in golf. There’s this sidewalk on Washington Road that leads to the fan entrance. I really enjoy watching people’s faces as they walk down this sidewalk because they’re all smiling. They’re always so happy to be there. It’s always a great place to start the spring because there’s so much joy happening.”
Zak traces his golf roots to one summer working at Horseshoe Bay and playing with his dad at Door County’s 18- and nine-hole courses.
“The fact that I can marry that with golf coverage is pretty lucky. I’m blessed,” he said. “It’s a lot of writing for GOLF.com on what life’s like here and what golf is like here and how it matters in the golf world. It would be a little like a travel writer going to Door County for the summer and capturing what Door County is like for the rest of the country. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing, in a golfy way.”