HOPE Tee Shot celebrates bright futures, East Lake rebirth
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Written by Helen Ross @helen_pgatour
TOUR Championship Announces 2022 HOPE Tee Shot Honorees
Haven Ward doesn’t miss the 4 a.m. wake-up calls for swimming practice.
The adrenaline that fuels each race? Yes, she misses that. But Haven has channeled her competitive instincts into golf and has fast developed into one of the nation’s top juniors.
Unlike Haven, who started playing golf when she was in first grade, Ethan Quitman didn’t pick up a club until he was 13. He likes golf so much, though, that taekwondo, where he holds a second-degree blue belt, has taken a back seat to the game.
The two Georgia teenagers – Haven is 17 while Ethan is a year younger – are products of First Tee-Metro Atlanta. And on Thursday at East Lake Golf Club, they will share the honor of hitting the first drives of the TOUR Championship.
The HOPE Tee Shot ceremony will be held at 11:15 a.m. The name of the event was chosen for a reason – those drives, a tournament staple since 2008, symbolize the hope that has spread throughout Metro Atlanta since the rebirth of the East Lake community.
Starting this year, the First Tee members like Haven and Ethan who are selected to hit the HOPE Tee Shot also will receive $5,000 scholarships to further their education.
“It means the absolute world to hit the shot in front of all these people,” says Ethan, who is a junior at Southwest Dekalb High School. “It means everything.”
Haven has some experience playing in front of crowds after competing in the Pure Insurance Championship at Pebble Beach on PGA TOUR Champions last year. Even so, she says she expects to be nervous on Thursday.
“I'll probably just tell myself to just go with my fundamentals,” Haven says, adding that she does her best under pressure. “… Oh, and hold my pose no matter where it goes.”
Marvin Hightower, who is the executive director of First Tee-Metro Atlanta, couldn’t be prouder of Haven and Ethan, who were chosen based on an essay contest, a golf competition, and interviews with tournament officials.
“These are two impressive individuals who embody the strength of character we at First Tee want our participants to adopt and pursue,” he says. “They are game changers who set the correct example for younger participants who look to follow in their footsteps by becoming successful in golf and in life.”
Haven has been a member of First Tee-Metro Atlanta for 11 years. She was introduced to the game during an enrichment class at the Drew Charter School, which was built as part of the revitalization of the East Lake community. She was drawn to the solitary nature of the game, and particularly likes the short game aspect, which she feels is like “your own story.”
“I feel like with driving the ball, like, you have to hit in a certain place to get a certain lie to get a good shot out,” Haven explains. “ … I feel like with the short game you can hit any kind of shot you want, and play the game that you want to that's gonna help you get the low score.
“So honestly, I just love short game. It's my favorite part. It feels good to hit a good drive, but it feels even better like to chip in or hit a pure bunker shot.”
When she was in sixth grade, Haven made the decision to focus on golf rather than swimming in hopes of earning an athletic scholarship. She’s currently ranked No. 104 nationally on the AJGA’s Junior Golf Scoreboard. She’s in the process of narrowing down her college choices.
“My short-term goal is to get to college and to do the best I can,” she says. “My long-term goal is to make it to the LPGA.”
This week will be a busy one for Haven, who has a 3.8 GPA. After hitting the HOPE Tee Shot and following some of her favorites like Rory McIlroy and Tony Finau, she will take the SAT on Saturday and then make her first college visit on Sunday to the University of Denver.
Oh, and after she gets back from Denver, Haven will be playing in a tournament in Orlando. She’s anxious to get back into competition after suffering a hairline fracture in her right hand that limited her practice this summer. She also was diagnosed with COVID on Aug. 14 but has recovered.
“It's been a weird summer-slash-year, but I'm just trying to move on day by day and see how I can improve the next day,” she says.
She credits her perseverance to her mother, Shellie, a single mom who is devoted to her two daughters.
“She always pushes through these challenges, and I feel like if she can do it, then I can do it,” Haven says. “Obviously, they’re different things but it’s still the same mentality every time.”
Ethan, who taught himself to play the piano by watching YouTube videos, became a golfer by chance. He had just finished a sub-par academic year and his dad had him hitting the books that summer. The week before he started school again, his dad took him to a Topgolf Academy where he met the man who would become his first coach, Darius Davis.
“He saw potential in me,” Ethan recalls. “He was like, ‘Has this kid ever played golf?’ … He's like, ‘He has a really good opportunity, and he can be really good in this game and potentially go pro.’ So, I got excited to do that. I started putting in the work, the time, the hours, and I just really love the game now. It's honestly showing off.”
Ethan has progressed quickly. The first time he played in the Dekalb County Championships, he shot a 107. A year later, he posted a 79 in the same event. He’s captain of his high school golf team and active in the First Tee, which he says has taught him the value of tenacity.
“I've learned perseverance mainly a lot because there's a lot of things in golf that you have to really fight through,” Ethan says. “A lot of stuff in golf is going to come your way and it's going to hit you, but you always have to get back up and keep moving forward.”
Ethan is making fast progress academically, as well. He does school on-line and has a 3.2 GPA. He hopes to graduate next spring and spend what would have been his senior year working on his game, since he knows a lot of the kids that he’ll be competing against for college scholarships have played golf longer than he has.
“I always have an optimistic mind when it comes to this stuff, especially if there's a challenge,” Ethan says. “I mean, I always take it on.”
Beyond college, Ethan has pro aspirations. Long range, he’d also like to start his own golf apparel business because the clothes he sees aren’t that colorful or unique or interesting, and the shirts are all baggy, not fitted the way he likes.
After hitting the HOPE Tee Shot, Ethan plans to follow his favorite player, Collin Morikawa, whose accuracy he admires. A year ago, he watched two First Tee friends kick off the action on Thursday, then followed Rory McIlroy, Tony Finau and Patrick Cantlay, who went on to win the FedExCup. Ethan even had his photo taken with Billy Horschel, who, Ethan is quick to point out, hosts an APGA event for aspiring young African-American golfers like himself.
The interaction with the pros had a profound impact on Ethan, who couldn’t contain his excitement when he talked to his father, Robert.
“After that day I told him, I was like, ‘Dude, I'm playing on this course,’” Ethan recalls. “And now I'm playing on the course and now I'm hitting the HOPE Tee Shot there, too.
“But now after that tee shot,” he adds, “soon I want to go pro and then be the first First Tee kid to play in the TOUR Championship and win it.”