First Tee Roanoke Valley Impresses At Champions Tour Event

The picturesque 18th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links where three First Tee Roanoke Valley members competed in the PURE Insurance Champions Tour Tournament September 19-24.

Horace Greeley is credited for saying “Go West, Young Man,” referring to the opportunities that presented themselves when the U.S. was expanding toward the Pacific Ocean in the 1800s.

During the week of September 19-24, three members of the local First Tee Roanoke Valley chapter packed their bags and headed west to the Monterey Peninsula in California.

Those three definitely took advantage of the opportunity.

First Tee members Grace Huffman, Alisa-Marie Caraballo and John Hatcher Ferguson represented First Tee Roanoke, three of 82 First Tee members from North America selected to play in the prestigious PURE Insurance Champions Tour event that paired the First Tee juniors with 82 Champions Tour professionals in the official PGA event played at the iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links and nearby Poppy Hills Golf Club.

Huffman, Caraballo and Ferguson learned of their selections in June, after the selected juniors were announced on the Golf Channel. It was the first time that three members of First Tee Roanoke had been selected in a single year, a reflection of the superb work done by the local chapter.

PGA professional, Major winner and Virginia native, Lanny Wadkins commented, during the first round, of the honor and magnitude of being selected and playing on this stage in front of a national television audience.

“I can’t even imagine,” Wadkins noted. “Where I came from and going out and playing, to come out here and do this at that age would be mind-boggling. It’s such a great opportunity for these youngsters, not only to be here playing with these pros, some of their heroes and people they look up to. So, this is such a wonderful week for these young people being here, doing this.”

Golf Channel commentator Whit Watson added, “These players representing the First Tee chapters from around the country, not only had to play their way into the event, but also went through an intensive interview process to earn the right to be here.”

At the pairing selection dinner before the first round, Huffman was paired with pro Phillip Price, Caraballo was teamed up with Carlos Franco and Ferguson arguably hit the home run when he found out his playing partner would be Larry Mize, the 1987 Masters champion who defeated Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman in a playoff. The junior players also attended the Legends & Leaders Dinner with celebrities from all walks of life, including the 66th Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who spoke on the 9 core values of The First Tee.

Huffman and Price had their names near the top of the leaderboard all day Friday after posting an opening round 67. Ferguson and Mize made their move on Saturday, shooting a best ball 62, jumping up 19 spots to finish the day with a two-round total of minus-13, three shots off the lead heading into Sunday’s final round.

The low 23 juniors and pro playing partners made the cut to play in Sunday’s final round, with Ferguson in 6th place at minus-13, and Huffman just getting inside the final cut line at minus-10.

Although Caraballo missed the cut, her 70-68 scores in the first two rounds were impressive.

Huffman took full advantage of making the cut, teaming with Price for a 66 at Pebble Beach in the final round to finish the tournament tied for 6th place at minus-16. Ferguson and Mize, meanwhile, hit a speed bump in Sunday’s final round, shooting a 71 and tied for 11th place.

No word whether Huffman played a role in Price’s club selection Sunday on the par-3 5th hole, where the 50-year-old pro from Wales scored a hole-in-one, eventually winning $78,000 in a tie for fifth place among the pros.

But, rest assured, these three First Tee members will return with memories of a lifetime.

Bill Turner