In a summer full of opportunities for Jackson Cole of Pawleys Island, he learned of the biggest while watching Golf Channel’s Morning Drive show last Wednesday.
That’s when Cole and his mother, Katie, saw his name among the 81 teenagers involved in The First Tee youth development organization who were selected to participate in the Champions Tour’s Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach.
The 54-hole tournament will be held Sept. 25-27 at famed Pebble Beach Golf Links and Poppy Hills Golf Course on the Monterrey Peninsula in California, and all three rounds will be televised on Golf Channel.
“When my name was on the list we went crazy. We were really excited,” Cole said. ”It’s going to be a learning experience and I’m just really appreciative of this opportunity.”
Also selected was Landon Patterson of Shallotte, N.C., a rising senior and captain of the boys golf team at West Brunswick High School. Both Cole and Patterson have reached the highest level of First Tee involvement – Ace Level – and are now volunteer instructors for lower-level participants.
Eighty teenagers ages 14 to 18 were selected by a national panel of judges that evaluated participants’ playing ability and comprehension of The First Tee’s life skills and core values. Tournament host Monterey Peninsula Foundation selected one exemption.
Cole and Patterson are the seventh and eighth players selected under the umbrella of the Carol S. Petrea Foundation, which oversees Cole’s Grand Strand and Patterson’s Brunswick County First Tee chapters. At 15, Cole is the youngest among them.
The Champions Tour players will be competing for a purse of $2 million while playing alongside two amateurs and a First Tee member. The pro plays his own ball, and his score each hole is also counted toward a best ball format with the junior. Only the top 23 pro-junior pairings advance to final round best ball play.
Champions Tour members already committed to participate include defending champion John Cook, World Golf Hall of Famer Colin Montgomerie and two-time U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen, who won the pro-junior competition last year when his junior partner, Christopher Meyers from The First Tee of Tucson, holed a 4-iron from the fairway on the final hole for an albatross.
Clint Eastwood is chairman of the event and Arnold Palmer is honorary co-chair.
The juniors learn their pro and amateur partners at a pairings party on Sept. 22.
Cole, a rising junior who is home-schooled and plays on the Waccamaw High golf team, played a round at the Reserve Club last June with Champions Tour member and South Carolina resident Jay Haas and hopes to be paired with him. Cole has already been bestowed the nickname “Homie” by Haas for his home-schooling.
“I look up to him because of the way he plays and carries himself,” Cole said. “That would be my ideal pairing but I’ll be excited to play with anyone on the Champions Tour. It will be nice to pick their brains a little bit.”
The past two Nature Valley participants from the Strand, Ashley Sloup and Cameryn Smith, named Fred Couples and Rocco Mediate, respectively, as their first choices and that’s who they drew, so Cole probably has a shot of drawing Haas, who has 26 combined PGA and Champions tour wins.
The tournament will be the third First Tee-related function for Cole this summer. He was scheduled to fly to Reno, Nev., on Tuesday to be one of just 24 participants in The First Tee's Player Advanced Academy at the University of Nevada-Reno.
Last month, he participated in a golf camp at the International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head Island.
“All the opportunities are great learning experiences and I’m so thankful for everything,” Cole said.
Honors keep coming
Selection and participation in the 2014 Nature Valley First Tee Open helped lead to several other opportunities for Smith of Shallotte.
She is headed to Queens University of Charlotte, N.C., next month and last summer was named the RBS First Tee Girls Achiever of the Year to earn a $15,000 college scholarship.
Since then, Smith was named a First Tee National Scholar and received a scholarship from The First Tee home office, was the state’s female recipient of a N.C. High School Athletic Association scholarship, earned a Rotary Scholarship, and on Monday received word of the golf-based Sara Scholarship for $2,000 per year.
In February, she was interviewed on the set of Morning Drive and that interview is expected to soon air.