Hear from our participants

We absolutely love hearing wonderful stories from our participants about their time with the first tee of northwest arkansas and some of the awesome experiences they have had on and off of the golf course. we are so happy to share some of these amazing stories with you as told by the participants themselves!

 

In September of 2018, Ethan Loafman (an ACE Level participant at The First Tee of Northwest Arkansas) got the chance through a National Opportunity offered by The First Tee to play in a PGA TOUR Champions event called the PURE Insurance Open benefiting The First Tee. Ethan was one of 81 participants selected from chapters across the country. The selection process was intense and selected participants were announced in July on The Golf Channel Morning Drive. When Ethan returned from his experience, he sat down and wrote this blog post about it. We are so proud of him for the great golfer he is and, more importantly, for the better person he has become off of the golf course through his time with us at The First Tee of Northwest Arkansas!

 Unforgettable. That’s the one word that I would use to describe my time at Pebble Beach. 

It was like nothing that I have ever experienced before. It was like something straight out of a movie. We were treated so well the entire week. That’s when I thought to myself, “I could get used to this.” 

The week’s events started on Tuesday night with the Pairings Party at Poppy Hills Golf Club. This was when I found out that I was paired with PGA Champions Tour Professional Glen Day. This was also the first time that I got to meet all of the other participants from The First Tee chapters across the country, some were new and others were old friends from previous National Opportunities I’ve been able to participate in through The First Tee. What a great first night of making new friends and eating great food – highlighted by a glow in the dark mini golf course and a live concert.

The next two days, Wednesday and Thursday, were the practice rounds. On Wednesday, I started at Poppy Hills in the morning and finished the day with a practice round at Pebble Beach. That night we had the “Legends & Leaders Dinner”. There were guest speakers that each gave a speech about one of the nine core values and how they have used that specific value to get to where they are in life. Wednesday evening at the dinner I had the chance to meet Alfonso Ribeiro, Charlie Rymer, and the golf legend Tom Watson. What a great night and one I will not soon forget! The night was capped off with the surprise presentation of a $1,000 scholarship to me and the 43 other high school seniors competing in the PURE Insurance Championship that week.

Thursday morning I headed back out to Poppy Hills for my last practice round. However, this was not any normal practice round because I was playing with PGA professional and multi-tournament winner on both the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions, Kirk Triplett. He was so nice and very informative about how to play the course. Later that night all the junior golfers went to the “STEM Zone by Chevron” on the 18th tee box of historic Pebble Beach Golf Links. With so many fun thing to do and explore, I spent most of my time at the golf ball cannon launching golf balls..

Friday was the start of the tournament. I started at Pebble Beach and I could not have been any more nervous. When the time came to tee off, I found peace in the calming morning breeze, hit my tee shot and we were on our way. At times it was hard to even play golf because I would get distracted by the views. Glen and I finished our day at Pebble Beach at five under par (-5), four strokes off the lead. That night there was a live concert by the hit band “Train” for all of the junior participants and their parents. That’s when I met another participant from an Arkansas chapter. Her name is Kirsten Matlock and she is from The First Tee of Fort Smith. We became friends very quickly and had a blast the final few days.  

Saturday morning was a different story, I got to the tenth tee at Poppy Hills (my starting tee) and didn’t feel any of the nerves I had experienced on day one. We finished the round and were a little disappointed, we had finished three under par (-3) for the day but felt like we left a few birdies out on the course. For the tournament however, we were eight under par (-8) and still only four behind the leaders. The only thing that I was worried about at that point was making the cut. I was nervous all evening waiting to see if I would be one of the of 23 junior golfers to play the final round at Pebble Beach. Saturday evening my parents and I met Kirsten’s family for dinner in Carmel at a bistro called Little Napoli. When we finished our meals and were walking out, my dad got the email with the cut line. He opened it and let out a slight yelp when he saw my name on the list. I was going to be playing the final round at Pebble Beach Golf Links!

Sunday morning arrived and my heart beat uncontrollably. I was scared, nervous, and excited all at the same time. We made it through the first twelve holes perfectly fine and that’s when I noticed the cameras. Although I never ended up making it on TV, the nerves really kicked in. It wasn’t until the 18th hole that I got used to it, and just in the nick of time. As we walked up the historic 18th fairway, the cart path to the right was lined with people and the grandstands behind the 18th green had hundreds of people watching (not counting all The First Tee kids sitting to the left of the green). As we finished the hole in front of all those people, that’s when I decided that I really wanted to pursue golf at the PGA TOUR level. Feeling all the adrenaline on every shot was like nothing I’d ever felt before.

That evening I watched all my fellow participants finish on 18 and watched the awards ceremony. Once the awards ceremony was completed I exchanged my contact information with my new friends, took photos and said goodbye to Pebble Beach Golf Links. Before we left Monterrey for the airport in San Jose my parents took me and Kirsten to Carmel Beach to enjoy the beach and sand one last time and take some final photos and then finally we said our goodbyes.

This experience has been one of most impactful events of my life; it’s where I made several new friendships that I’ll have forever. I was able to make a good connection with Mr. Day, and it was the first time I really felt like I could make it as a professional golfer. This experience will help guide me through the rest of my life with all of the great speeches from those amazing speakers and the lessons they taught us. I want to close by saying thank you to the First Tee of Northwest Arkansas for always supporting me and guiding me to be a good golfer and an even better person on and off the golf course.

-Ethan Loafman