For the past seven years in September, I have had the pleasure of playing in one of my favorite tournaments, at probably my favorite golf course in the world – Pebble Beach. You might expect it to be either the AT&T in the winter or the US Open this past summer at Pebble, but it’s neither. During these years Pebble has hosted The First Tee Open with the generous help of sponsors, Home Care & Hospice and Wal-Mart. It is without a doubt one of the highlights of The Champions Tour for me.
This past week 78 juniors selected from over 200 First Tee programs from all over the country came to Pebble Beach to play with the old guys like me, courtesy of The First Tee and its sponsors. What makes this so special is they are selected based on both golf skill and their understanding of the nine Core Values of the First Tee, or in simpler terms, getting IT. [The nine Core Values of The First Tee are: Honesty, Integrity, Sportsmanship, Respect, Confidence, Responsibility, Perseverance, Courtesy and Judgment.] Their enthusiasm and smiles, their seriousness in the competition, their respect and manners all combined to prove that these youths of America get IT.
Where they got IT in part was from The First Tee programs in their local communities. With the fun of golf being the hook, these young people came to a variety of First Tee facilities, like the Blue River Golf Academy and Learning Center in my home town of Kansas City, to learn the game as well as being taught the program’s Nine Core Values. Our community built a three hole golf course which pre-dated the beginnings of The First Tee in 1997 in a joint City/private venture on public ground which is used by the First Tee youngsters as well as other golfers not in the program. Three holes to get the beginners started in the game is all it takes. This facility and a commitment by a host of teachers and volunteers to help these youngsters learn the Core Values of the program has been, in the vernacular, very successful at getting IT gotten.
At Pebble Beach last Wednesday night, all the kids and most of us pros got together to have dinner and to hear a variety of people talk about each of the nine Core Values. I had the honor to speak of the core value Honesty, which gave me the opportunity to ask the room a question, “Raise your hand if you know the difference between right and wrong.” Of course all of us raised our hands. I followed by speaking to the fundamental truth about honesty, and that it makes one’s life a lot simpler. Not having to remember the story you made up to your parents or having to live with yourself after not taking the penalty shot when you accidentally moved your golf ball which no one but you saw happen. The cover up is a lot worse than the truth…even though the truth hurts at times. Other fine speakers described the other eight Core Values with great passion. Many of the adults who attended this event, both sponsors and parents, said this was the pinnacle of the week for them…and I agree.
It was at this First Tee dinner that I first met MarTavious Adams. With a firm handshake and a broad smile he introduced himself to me, immediately confirming to me that the program was working. Confidence and Respect showed through his smile and manners. I couldn’t wait to see how he handled the pressure of the tournament with me as his partner…and he certainly showed me!
We started play at Del Monte Golf Course, the easier of the two courses, and he proved right away he could play. I didn’t score very well (a 73) but with his good play we managed a 68 as a team. On the par 5 ninth he hit it past me by 30 yards after I hit a good drive…ahhh, youth!
Round 2 was the cut round: the Pro/Junior teams were reduced to the low 22 teams. We had to shoot a good score to play together on Sunday, and we did as we shot a 66 on the tougher course, Pebble, to make the cut by one.
Then came Sunday and the young man showed what he was made of. He started with a six foot birdie at the first, followed by a great chip-in for birdie at the third. Then came the fourth, the shortest hole at Pebble, but one full of hazards both right and left. After getting a great break with a poor tee shot which headed right toward the OB and Pacific Ocean, his ball flew through and over some trees and ended up in the rough some 180 yards short of the smallest of all the greens at Pebble. To hit his ball onto this uphill green would be a monumental task even for the likes of a Phil Mickelson. I would have had to hit my absolute best shot to get it on the green. I intently watched as he made a great swing with a long iron, the ball launched powerfully in the air. As it landed on the green stopping some 45 feet above the hole, right next to where I hit my gap wedge, I thought to myself he had just hit his career shot. Even after that great shot he faced a lightning fast downhill putt which he knocked it in with perfect speed as I struggled to two putt for my par. This was one of the greatest birdies I have ever witnessed as I told him he had to be the first person ever to make a birdie from where his tee ball ended up.
MarTavious (or Magic as his friends call him) wasn’t done yet. He holed a 30-footer for birdie on the short par 3 seventh to make it four birdies in the first seven holes! He added another chip-in par on the sixteenth and we finished with a 66 to end up in the top 10 — and a great finish to an inspiring week.
Now, for the rest of the story…the most important part.
MarTavious lives in Atlanta with his mother, Latoisha, and younger brother, Kiante, near East Lake CC. He goes to school at Decatur High where he is a junior. Being short on means, four years ago his mother was reluctant to have him enroll in East Lake’s First Tee program, but MarTavious persisted. His mother finally allowed him to join the program, showing he already had Perseverance.
East Lake CC is known for both its most distinguished member, the great Bobby Jones, and as the venue of the PGA Tour Championship. Bobby played countless rounds there, and as the story goes, sadly Bobby retired there one day after hitting a very poor drive — which led him to discover he had an incurable neurological disease, which eventually cost him his life.
But what East Lake is recently known for is Tom Cousins and his far reaching vision which has turned into reality for this community. Mr. Cousins efforts at revitalizing the community with jobs, schools and The First Tee program are the reason MarTavious and many more youngsters like him are getting the right start in life. Now there is a choice where there was none before…a chance for the young people to learn about a better way of living their lives. The plan is coming together. Mr. Cousins plan is succeeding. And the community is getting IT.
Thanks Mr. Cousins and The First Tee, for giving MarTavious, his brothers and sisters, and their community a hand up.
And thanks Magic for showing me a shot of a lifetime.