For the first nine years of the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, the tournament occupied a time slot in midsummer, a time of year when the Monterey Peninsula is often shrouded in fog. For this year’s 10th Anniversary edition, the tournament was shifted to a late-September slot in the schedule, a move that has been lauded by Peninsula-savvy golf fans.
Early morning and evening can be quite cool this time of year, and the shorter days are a challenge when it comes to getting a full complement of rounds in during the day, but sunny, pristine days spent in the beautiful environs of the Monterey Peninsula make minor qualms fade into the background. The brilliant early-autumn sunlight sparkled on the waters of Carmel Bay, and dolphins, sea lions, sea otters splashed in the blue waters.
Unique format makes the Nature Valley First Tee Open a special event
The Nature Valley First Tee Open follows a format which is similar to that of the AT&T Pro-Am, with professional and amateur players competing together, and the top pro-am teams from the first two rounds playing for a separate prize on the final day. What makes this tournament different from any other, however, is the presence of eighty-one talented junior golfers, members of First Tee chapters from all over the United States, who have been selected based on golf skills, a written essay and their overall character. The juniors are paired with a professional partner, with whom they compete as a team for the pro-junior prize.
The unique format of the Nature Valley First Tee Open allows these talented junior players to experience not only the thrill of playing one of the finest golf courses in the world, Pebble Beach Golf Links, but to meet and be influenced by great champions of the professional golf ranks, as well as leaders from the world of business, professional sports, etc. in their amateur partners.
A good case in point is the Friday grouping of Champions Tour pro Peter Jacobsen, First Tee junior player Hayley Mortensen, 17, of Tualatin, OR, near Portland, and amateur partners Steve Green, vice president of Policy, Government and Public Affairs for Chevron Corporation, and Leon Panetta, a former Congressman from the Monterey area, White House Chief of Staff under President Clinton, as well as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and Secretary of Defense under President Obama.
This is pretty heady company for a high school senior, but Hayley, who plays out of the First Tee of Greater Portland, could have been playing in a foursome with friends or family for all it (apparently) affected her. She shook off a couple of early bogeys, listened attentively to suggestions from Jacobsen, especially guidance on putting the notoriously tricky Pebble Beach greens, and showed the strength of her near-scratch game by neatly running the table on the difficult stretch of holes from 7 through 10 with pars.
Del Monte plays easier on Friday
Twenty-two of the top twenty-three low rounds of the tournament so far came at Del Monte Golf Course, the companion course to Pebble Beach in the Nature Valley First Tee Open. Del Monte, which has been in continuous operation since 1897, is shorter and less rigorous than Pebble Beach, and with the breezy conditions that sprang up in the afternoon along the coast, Del Monte, being less exposed, played easier.
Bernhard Langer, of Germany, who played off of an 8:58 AM start at Del Monte, leads after the first day of play, at 9 under. He is followed by a group of five players, which includes Tom Lehman and 2012 First Tee Open champion Kirk Triplett, four strokes back at 4-under. Triplett is paired with 15-year-old Michelle Xie, of Palo Alto, a member of the First Tee of Silicon Valley; the pair are tied for fourth in the Pro-Junior rankings after the first day of play.