PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- How many kids can say they've played the mystically beautiful golf courses at Pebble Beach Golf Links and Del Monte Golf Course, where mountains peek through the fog and waves crash beside the greens? Better yet, how many can say that they've gotten advice from a tour professional while playing said courses? Or had a chance to see the Jonas Brothers (the "it" boy band for tweens) up close in concert?
Exactly 78 young golfers will be able to say that by the end of the week. And this story could have been written about any of the juniors in the field at the Wal-Mart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach this week -- of the 78 special teens, there are 78 unique stories to tell. But instead it will focus on four kids -- actually, kids isn't the right word since they are strikingly well-spoken and more mature than most adults -- who took very different paths to get to Pebble Beach.
There's the future David Toms in 15-year-old Nicholas Schafer, who looks up to the PGA TOUR pro because neither are the biggest guys on the course. Then again, it's heart more than size that matters in golf -- Schafer shot 73-79 to qualify for this tournament. He'd want you to know that the 79 should have been much lower, since he "was 1 under through the first 10 holes before the heat (in Kansas) got to [him] and [he] finished 8 over through the last holes."
Then there's Roberto Rosas, who could have fallen victim to the wrong side of the tracks -- just last Saturday someone was shot in front of the 16-year-old's First Tee Chapter in San Diego. With wisdom beyond his years, Rosas credits the organization with keeping him out of trouble, taking him to places he never thought possible and guiding his future plans.
"I've got three years left to play on my high school golf team and I hope to go on and play in college. It's also a great stepping stone for the business world since lots of people play golf for work and it offers a great advantage," said Rosas, who can get advice on forging a successful career and avoiding trouble from the ultimate tough guy and first-round playing partner Clint Eastwood.
Jacqueline Williams, 16, also hopes to parlay her First Tee experience into a job -- on the LPGA Tour. Williams, who said goal-setting both on the course and in school has been the biggest skill she's learned from the First Tee, set that lofty goal for herself and admits that one day playing hero Annika Sorenstam would be, well, pretty cool.
"I would be astonished (playing Sorenstam) on the first tee but then I would try to beat her," Williams said with a grin.
Marvin Phisitkraiyakorn is smiling, too, just happy to be here after what he's been through in his 17 years of life. For two and a half months in October of 2003, just one year after he joined The First Tee, he was laid up in the hospital battling Acute Lymphoblast Leukemia and recovering from the effects of a stroke that paralyzed his left side.
"Learning the nine core values that the First Tee teaches helped me a lot," he said. "I spent seven months away from the game and when I tried to come back I used them to help practice and maintain a positive attitude."
Phisitkraiyakorn shot 111 in his first tournament back, a number he considered impossible in the months he was battling cancer. By the end of that golf season, through practice and sheer perseverance, he had cracked 80.
Perseverance. That's one of the nine fundamental values The First Tee teaches, along with honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, courtesy and judgment.
One of the activities for the week included a dinner on Wednesday night with special guest Lorena Ochoa and eight others sharing their thoughts on one of the core values. Champions Tour member Jay Haas attended this Pro-Junior mixer and found that the juniors already exhibited these traits.
"These are such good kids who represent the core values...regardless of whether one percent or 50 percent end up on the PGA TOUR or LPGA Tour, they are getting a great start in life," said Haas. "It's nice to meet the kids and get to see their wide eyes -- seeing the excitement on their faces makes me glad to be involved with the (Wal-Mart First Tee Open)."
In addition to the golf, a concert is planned for Friday night with the Jonas Brothers, but the low 22 juniors from the first two rounds of the tournament on Friday and Saturday can't stay up too late this week since they get to report to play on Sunday at Pebble Beach with all the pros and the top 10 amateur teams. The rest of the juniors will play on Del Monte in the Core Values Cup.
Another activity during the week is the Coca-Cola Champions Challenge, where Tom Kite, Tom Watson, Craig Stadler, Hale Irwin, Scott Simpson and Nick Price each teed it up with a junior golfer on Thursday to earn a possible $40,000 for their local First Tee Chapters. With Gary McCord emceeing the affair, it was less of a challenge than a chance to laugh at some good-natured ribbing.
When one of the juniors hit an errant shot -- a rare occurrence since most of the best shots of the day came from the teens -- he quickly apologized to his professional playing partner.
"No apologies needed," McCord teased.
But, with the nine core values engrained in their nature, it's hard to keep apologies and good manners from coming out in juniors from The First Tee.