By Jason J. Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Two Seattle area high school seniors received the thrill of a lifetime when they were picked to play with professional golfers on the famed Pebble Beach Golf Course in Northern California.
Keiki Hofilena and Stephen Dai, both 17, of the First Tee program were chosen to play with Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Tour Champions in Pebble Beach during the last week of September. The PGA Tour Champions are comprised of men on the senior tour (50 years of age and older) of the PGA. The Official PGA Tour Champions event was held Sept. 24-29 and was televised internationally on the Golf Channel. The PURE Insurance Championship is the only event of its kind, in which 78 junior golfers are teamed with 78 PGA TOUR Champion players.
The First Tee’s mission is to impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character and instill life-enhancing values through the game of golf and events like the PURE Insurance Championship. It also teaches life skills, one of which is goal-setting. The tournament is a goal that many participants across the chapter network now set and establish as a “goal ladder” to reach.
Hofilena and Dai were picked based on their golf skills and completing an application, which included essays. They were selected by a national panel of judges based on their understanding of the values and life skills learned through First Tee’s programs.
The junior golfers picked for the event were announced in the summer on the Golf Channel.
Stephen Dai’s father woke up to watch the announcement and told his son, as he decided to sleep in. Dai is a senior at Lakeside High School. He plans on attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he plans on playing on the schools’ golf team.
Dai was introduced to the sport by one of his sister’s classmates. Originally, he thought that golf was a prestigious game played by those in private clubs. His mother believed that learning the sport would help shape him into becoming a gentleman. Dai started with the First Tee at the age of 9 and has been with the organization ever since. He has taken a leadership role with the organization as a manager for the First Tee Junior Advisory Board golf equipment sales.
“It was really, really fun,” Dai said of his time interacting with the golf pros and playing the famed course. He noted that he didn’t do anything different when he played.
“Golf-wise, it was kind of like just another tournament in the summer. Non-golfwise, I just was myself.” Dai played with golf pro Mark Walker.
“It was really fun…He was from Texas and had a different background than I have. It was a lot of fun talking to him and his caddy.”
Not a lot was talked about the golf game, just a lot of chatting Dai noted.
“I know watching him as a professional play is really different from what you see on TV.” Dai observed the focus of the pro as he knew how to recover and keep his head up even when he had tough shots. “He showed great mental focus,” said Dai.
Pebble Beach was not a disappointing experience for Dai, who recognized how different the course is in person than watching on television.
“The undulation, slope, and the view,” remarked Dai about the pristine sights from several holes as the course traverses with cliffs yield to the Pacific Ocean. As was expected, Dai took a ton of pictures of his experience.
Similar to Dai, Keiki Hofilena did not get up early that Saturday in the summer to watch the announcement of whether he would play at Pebble Beach. Rather, his mom’s screams of excitement woke him up. Hofilena, a senior at the International School in Bellevue had the opportunity to play with PGA Tour Champion pro Paul Goydos.
“He’s a great dude,” Hofilena said of his time playing with Goydos. He stated that Goydos cracked jokes during their rounds together while having a straight face.
“He’s a great guy to be with,” said Hofilena.
As with Dai, Hofilena started playing golf at age 9 with the First Tee and has been with the group ever since. Hofilena has stayed with the First Tee due to the great coaches and the kids you meet. He likes the special community and bond of the First Tee.
Hofilena worked a little more with his golf swing coach once he learned he would get to play at Pebble Beach. Aside from the extra time with his swing, he practiced with his high school team.
It was a dream for Hofilena to play Pebble Beach and he had the time of his life despite having to deal with some of the wind that tends to come with the placement of the course on the scenic cliffs overlooking the Pacific.
Hofilena puts everything into perspective when it comes to golf.
“My earlier years playing tournament golf, I would always struggle mentally. I would worry about what I would shoot.” He realized the key for him was to relax and not take the game too seriously. “You won’t beat anyone if you beat yourself,” said Hofilena.
In addition to golf, Hofilena likes to work on automobiles. He professed a love for cars since he was a kid, as he used to visit a cousin that introduced him to it. YouTube videos have aided Hofilena in his 1984 Volkswagen Scirocco, which he has restored and maintains to drive it to school.
For more information on the First Tee, visit thefirstteeseattle.org.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.