Golf bridges the generation gap between pros, teens

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August 28, 2008
Lauren Deason, PGATOUR.COM Editorial Coordinator

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- On Wednesday night, The First Tee participants attended a "Legends and Leaders" dinner, where speakers were brought in to talk about The First Tee's nine core values. Dan Nevins, who was badly injured in Iraq and lost both of his legs, spoke to the audience about perseverance -- one of the nine core values -- and brought the crowd to tears.

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Nevins inspired the heart while Brandon Urbano -- a teenager who will be playing in the Walmart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach this week, representing the First Tee of Greater Sacramento -- inspired the funny bone. Urbano gave his talk on confidence and did so off the top of his head without a prepared speech. A recent high school grad, Urbano spoke on "senioritis", that "illness" that plagues those about to graduate.

He couldn't resist a chance to throw a barb at the Champions Tour pros.

"For us, senioritis was about slacking off in school. For most of the people in this room, it's about getting one of those cards where you get discounts," Urbano joked.

That's the unique thing about this five-year-old event, where Champions Tour players over age 50 are paired with teenagers from 14-18 years old. Most of the juniors are young enough to be their kids. Some are young enough to be their grandkids.

But golf transcends age, generations and even music taste. For instance, the popular Jonas Brothers played last year on the 18th green and the band One Republic will put on a concert there on Thursday night.

In his interview with the media on Thursday, on the other hand, John Cook quoted a Led Zeppelin song.

On Friday morning, though, none of that will matter as they all tee it up on Pebble Beach Golf Links or Del Monte Golf Course. Do they mind the generation gap? Not at all.

"It will be a very, very fine experience to play with the kids and see how they progress and play on arguably the finest golf course around. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to this when I was a kid," Cook said.

"To see the kids and to watch them perform and how they handle themselves with adults is a real treat," Jay Haas added. "The core values that they stress here, I've never met any one of the kids who didn't have all nine.

"...It's just an amazing group of kids, how they handle themselves, how wide-eyed they are, how excited they are. It's been a long time since we were in their shoes and that's how we got started in the game to have something like this to shoot for as a junior player is something obviously all of us older players missed out on. That aspect of the event to me is what really makes it."

Not only do they have the privilege to play with World Golf Hall of Fame members and PGA TOUR winners, but a few lucky juniors will have a chance to play with amateur participants Bill Murray, Jerry Rice, Clint Eastwood and Stone Phillips.

The teenagers had to qualify to get to the Monterey Peninsula and 100 percent of the participants are from First Tee chapters throughout the country. In this unique tournament format (it's the only Champions Tour event to take place on two courses) the 78 professionals will play all three rounds, while all 78 juniors play on Friday and Saturday along with all the amateurs. The junior and pro teams play a "gross best ball" format and the amateur teams play "net best ball".

The groups will alternate between Pebble Beach Golf Links and Del Monte Golf Course on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, all pros, the low 22 juniors and the top-10 amateur teams will play on Pebble Beach. The next low amateur teams and the 58 remaining juniors will head to Del Monte for the Core Values Cup on the final day.

The competition to make Sunday at Pebble Beach will be fierce, as most of these kids can play. And don't think they're clueless when it comes to golf history, either. Even though -- to put it into perspective -- none of them were born when Tom Watson had that famous chip-in at Pebble Beach to win the U.S. Open in 1982, they still know who these players are and what they've won.

"I think that is one of the amazing things about it -- the (kids) know who they are playing with. In a lot of cases, they know the records of the people they are playing with," said Arnold Palmer, who's an honorary co-chairman of the event along with Former President George Bush. "It's unbelievable that they know everyone, what they have done in the past, what major championship they have won. It's just amazing. It gives them real feel for what the game is all about and what their future can be if they decide to stay in the game."

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Case in point. Scott Simpson, the 2006 winner at the Walmart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, walked into the interview room at the same time that a group of teenage golfers were taking a tour of the media center.

The well-behaved youngsters from The First Tee politely listened to Simpson, asked thoughtful questions about his history and occasionally snuck out their cellphones to take a picture of the 1987 U.S. Open winner.

At a mixer on Wednesday night, many of the teenagers scurried around to get autographs. D.A. Weibring sat on a bench for about 30 minutes on Thursday as two participants chatted with him and picked his brain.

"All of the guys are more than happy to help in any way and certainly can help them. They can see all the different techniques on pitching, bunker play, putting," Haas said. "I think through the course of the week it's great that we get to play two or three rounds with them. You get to watch them play, hit a shot under pressure. If there's a shot they didn't pull off, maybe you go to the range afterwards and talk about that.

"I've tried to do that at times but I also try not to get too much into them and have them thinking about every swing or thinking that I'm critiquing every shot they play. I just want them to play their own game and maybe after the round we talk about it."

Many of the Champions Tour pros play with their junior partners in more than one year if the teenager returns. Simpson partnered with Robert Carter for the past two years and kept in touch as Carter went off to college.

"The most important thing is the young people. I have watched some of the kids who have played in the event. I have heard from some of them after the fact. They all seem to be doing very well," Palmer said. "They have great memories of playing with the pros who have been very helpful in getting across how important the game is and what it can mean to the young people who participate.

"It's not the just the golf. It's the relationship that is created and carried forward into their lives. That is something that is invaluable. It's something we all remember. These kids keep in touch."

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