This piece was posted with permission from The First Tee of Western New York and Gregory Sibick. Mr. Sibick is junior at Nichols School in Buffalo. He was invited to participate in the Nature Valley First Tee Open in September. These are his recollections.
The realization that I was going to play in The First Tee Open at the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links with hundreds of spectators and be paired with a professional golfer did not set in until I looked out the window of the car at the beautiful landscaping of California. In my opinion, one of the most scenic states in the US. Right then, I knew that The First Tee Open was going to be an amazing and unforgettable experience. However, it truly overfilled its expectations.
Upon arrival at Pebble Beach, I met Laura Diaz. She was the woman in charge. She set up everything and knew the schedule for the week like the back of her hand. And you definitely did not want to be late for anything. I went through the registration process, received my photo ID, itinerary, and signed a few papers that allowed the Golf Channel to broadcast me. To add to the weekend, I gratefully accepted all tournament gifts from companies such as Ecco, Adidas, and Toms. I figured that should get ready for the big week after traveling for 9 hours, so I headed to the range with only about 2 hours of daylight remaining. It was roped off from everyone except participants, so I had to show my ID just to hit balls. It never felt better hitting balls. Not just range balls, Titleist ProV1s. I was only one of a few people on the range; no professionals were out there so the nerves did not get to me.
The next day approached much faster then I expected. At 9:30 I was set to tee off at Del Monte Golf Course. I put my dad on the bag for the practice rounds, he handled it well. When we made the turn after nine, I heard a voice yell in a Scottish accent “Mine if I join you lads on the back?” I immediately turned around and was in awe. It was Colin Montgomerie, or Monty as we called him. I stared at him for a good 5 seconds to make sure it was reality, and then went on to say, “Of course you can join.” That tee shot on the tenth tee was very difficult with one of golfs greats European players watching me. However, I did not let the nerves get to me and split the fairway. That back nine was a lot of fun and I had a great time playing with Monty even though he was a “bit jet lagged” and didn’t get to show off his skills.
That night was the pairings party. It was the night all participants found out who their Champions Tour playing partner would be. This was probably the most exciting and thrilling night because everyone wanted to know who his or her partner was. Also The Band Perry played live on stage behind the 18th green at Pebble Beach, which made the night even more memorable. Everyone walked across the stage as his or her names were called and received an envelope enclosed with your partner’s name, but you then had to wait until everyone had received theirs. The only thing that separated you and opening it was a golden seal. We stood in front of the stage waiting anxiously until Jimmy Roberts said, “Juniors open your envelope.” This was an awesome feeling; I probably opened mine the slowest just to let the moment soak in a little more. As I peeled back the golden seal and unfolded the envelope, there it was “BERNHARD LANGER.” I was speechless for a moment then let it all out. The girl beside me was paired with Fred Couples, so we were a couple lucky kids. However, everyone there was fortunate enough to be there, being paired with Bernhard Langer was a bonus. I could not have asked for a better partner. This man had won the Masters two times, runner-up in the Open Championship two times, and a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Entering the tournament he was second in the race to the Charles Schwab Cup. I did not meet him that night. I went to tell my parents the great news and they thought I was joking. My dad actually predicted it. As The Band Perry played I just sat there looking at the name “BERNHARD LANGER” inside the envelope. Of course, I also socialized with the new friends I had made from all parts of the country.
The next day was the Coca Cola Challenge. This was another bonus. I was only one of six kids chosen to play in this from the 81 juniors in the tournament. The event paired a junior with a Hall-of-Famer or a past champ to play alternate shot skins match for 5 holes. Each hole was worth $8000 split between you and your professional’s chapter. Everyone who was chosen had no complaints about their partner. The Hall-of-Famers were Craig Stadler, Jeff Sluman, Hale Irwin, Fuzzy Zoeller, and past champs Kirk Tripplet and Ted Schulz. I was paired with Hale Irwin and things couldn’t have gone better. Except his first tee shot, which he topped “on purpose” to piss off Fuzz. I think it was the nerves. Something I handled very well. I never hit a better tee shot in front of about 100 spectators. We both teed off on the first hole and of course took mine. In the end there were two carry-over holes. A chip off determined which First Tee chapters would receive the money. I was the first to go and hit it to about 3 feet from the front fringe of the 18th green to a back pin. I ended up winning. The $16000 was split between The First Tee of Western New York and The First Tee of Phoenix.
That night I met Bernhard Langer and it was awesome. We had dinner and talked about everything you could imagine. We actually share a lot of things. I also found out that he turned pro when he was 15. He doesn’t advise it to anyone, even though it worked out pretty well for him. He said, “Get an education, that is one thing no one will be able to take away.”
The days of competition had similar nerve feelings to that of the Coca Cola Challenge. However, my first tee shot on the first day was certainly not my best, the dreaded hook. Bernhard helped me throughout the day, giving me tips, since I did not play well in contrast to his 63. My name was next to his so I received a bit of credit even though I didn’t contribute that much compared to our 62 best ball. Although, I must say it is hard to contribute when you partner birdies every other hole. The texts and calls poured in from family members and friends back home, but I had to get ready for tomorrow. After lunch that day I went to the range and the putting green with Bernhard. He gave me his time. This was definitely one thing that separated him from the other players. I learned to put the ball back in my stance to increase a smoother roll on my putts and on the range he told me to put the ball an inch further back to get rid of the draw. The next day it all came together. I played great, except a couple thoughts on one of the last holes that prevented me from breaking par on Pebble Beach. It was a great day, just like every single one that week.
The last day in California approached faster than I thought it would. Walking down the 18th fairway with galleries, TV cameras, and stands behind and to the right of the green is something I will never forget. Also, the ocean to the left with the waves crashing against the stonewall added to the atmosphere and experience. Bernhard was not in the greatest mood after the round because he has had numerous chances to win. Sundays haven’t treated him well, but I said Goodbye to him and thanked him for all the wonderful memories I made with him and that I will never forget the lessons he has taught me. I never had the chance to get his email or phone number. I knew that somehow somewhere I would see and talk to him again. Within days of arriving home, I received an email from him, apologizing. This just shows even more what a great man he is. He was apologizing for his “bad mood on Sunday evening” following the round. I truly understood the frustration he felt after the round because it has happened to me. If you did not know Bernhard is a very religious individual and he said that “God is in control and there will be better times ahead.” This is a true statement. His religiousness has also made me realize what an important factor God plays in our lives. He then left his phone number at the bottom and asked me to text him. I have texted him a few times and our friendship is concrete.
This experience is one I will be able to cherish for the rest of my life. I’d like to thank my parents, Coach PJ, Allen Miller, The First Tee of Western New York and everyone that has helped me along the way because without them this dream would not have been possible.