Kylie Porter Chooses Gratitude Despite Life’s Challenges

Kylie Porter (right) alongside fellow First Tee – Canton participant, Ava Kemp.

If you’ve ever met Kylie Porter from First Tee – Canton you would never know all that she has overcome. Kylie has been a fighter since the day she was born. As a newborn, Kylie was transported to the Akron Children’s Hospital NICU as a 4-pound twin. Her parents had a priest called to the hospital to give Kylie her last rights, as they were told she wouldn’t survive. And if by some miracle she was to survive, she would never walk and would experience cognitive delays.

Kylie beat the odds.

Despite the doctor’s diagnosis, she has become a remarkable, intelligent young lady who is grateful to play her favorite sport…golf. Kylie has been a part of First Tee – Canton for more than seven years, where she is known for her amazing smile, positive attitude and hard work. Her parents truly thought they would never see the day and credit First Tee for not only teaching Kylie how to play the game of golf but providing a space where she could develop her character and values such as honesty, respect and acceptance.

“First Tee is more than just learning how to golf. At First Tee – Canton, I learned how important core values are to use everywhere. Not just in the sport of golf, but also in utilizing the values to help guide me in my everyday life. My favorite value is perseverance. In order to pursue your goals in life, you have to persevere and work hard towards your goals.”

Kylie has certainly made her mark at First Tee – Canton.

In 2019, the chapter honored Kylie with their first ever “Bill Hayes Perseverance Award.” In an effort to honor Mr. Hayes, a former volunteer who continued to serve despite his health issues, the award was created to recognize participants that also persevere in life. They believed that Kylie was a perfect fit to receive the first award.

Kylie recognizes how blessed she is and shares her story to advocate for other kids dealing with challenges in their life. Now 14 years old, Kylie has been diagnosed with Stickler syndrome, which contributes to severe hearing loss. However, she doesn’t let this stop her. Kylie uses her platform as a means to motivate young people and encourage them to find confidence despite their hearing loss. She uses social media to spread this message and share her story. Because of her efforts, Kylie was recently honored as a HearStrong Champion through the HearStrong Foundation.

She wants to inspire kids and teens with hearing loss and one day be an audiologist to help others like herself.

Kylie, you inspire us to learn and grow from our challenges.

In this season of thankfulness, we are grateful for our donors and supporters who help lift up our mission so we can reach young people like Kylie. This holiday season, when you donate to a First Tee chapter, they’re eligible for matching dollars, up to $1 for every $2 you donate, thanks to a matching grant program from Charles R. Schwab.  Find a chapter to donate today and join our mission to empower young people to build their strength of character through golf.

Twelve Exemplary High School Seniors Earn Selection in to First Tee College Scholarship Program

PONTE VEDRA, Fla. (June 2, 2021) – Twelve high school graduates have been selected to the First Tee College Scholarship Program based on academic performance, length and involvement in First Tee programs, financial need and commitment to volunteerism. This class of scholars includes aspiring engineers, accountants, teachers and environmental activists, all of whom will be attending stand out colleges and universities, including Dartmouth College, University of Pennsylvania, Boston College, Indiana University and other top institutions across the country. Selected from a national pool of candidates, the Scholars represent diverse backgrounds from communities across the First Tee network. The class is comprised of eight females and four males and 59% are ethnically diverse. The Scholars’ average GPA is 4.19 on a 4.0 scale and hold an average of 1,422 out of 1,600 on SAT and 31 out of 36 on ACT. Five of the Scholars will play on their college’s golf team. “I offer congratulations and a warm welcome to our new class of First Tee College Scholars,” said Greg McLaughlin, CEO of First Tee. “I am proud to continue First Tee’s support of these students at such an important time in their lives – through their matriculation and beyond. These outstanding young leaders remind us how bright the future is for them and for the industries and communities they will eventually serve. We are appreciative of donors to the First Tee College Scholarship Program who make this program possible.” First Tee College Scholarship Program extends its impact to alumni by providing support throughout their post-graduate career. Each of the scholars are paired with a dedicated, trained adult mentor who will help encourage and guide them throughout the college experience, including virtual and in-person meetups. The program also provides professional development workshops held in-person throughout the year. Applications were received from participants at 44 chapters in 28 states across the nation. Following an online application process, finalists were selected by a committee for one-on-one interviews. In addition to academic performance, applicants were considered based on financial need, chapter involvement, volunteerism and other criteria. First Tee College Scholarship Program is made possible by donors and corporate partners who stand behind the program and First Tee’s mission, including Astros Golf Foundation, Peter A. Bonanni Scholarship Fund, Chevron Corporation, A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, Timothy W. Finchem Scholarship Fund, Paul and Ruth Flowers, Morrell Studios, Charles Schwab, TruGreen, Edward and Lisa Vaughan and Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund. First Tee’s College Scholarship Class of 2021 includes: (Listed alphabetically; all GPAs are on a 4.0 scale) Claire Alford, First Tee — Central Coast Santa Clara University Graduating with a 4.56 GPA Claire has received many honors and accolades for her hard work and plans to major in Public Health and Biology with a goal of attending medical school. Marion Caldwell, First Tee — Four Corners Dartmouth University Pursuing a future in teaching, Marion is passionate about passing down the knowledge she has obtained throughout her life to the children within her community and will major in both English and History. Natalie Cao, First Tee — Greater Houston University of Pennsylvania  Natalie strives for greatness in both the classroom and on the course and will play on the women’s golf team while majoring in economics. Molly Castle, First Tee — Tennessee University of Tennessee Knoxville As a First Tee — Tennessee participant for seven years, Molly has used that experience and her love of golf for helping others within her community. She plans to major in agriculture sciences. Malisone Chanthapanya, First Tee — Fort Worth Texas Wesleyan University With a cumulative 4.0 GPA combined with her success on the course, Malisone plans to continue her golf career at Texas Wesleyan University while double majoring in computer science and accounting. Quincy Crawford, First Tee — Greater Washington, D.C. University of Cincinnati Quincy has plans to study Aerospace Engineering in pursuit of his goal to create fuel-efficient aircrafts, lessoning the overall carbon footprint and possibly slow the rate of climate change. Rebecca Jones, First Tee — Indiana Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Rebecca will be studying environmental engineering and plans to use her degree to focus on land remediation and implementing new systems to reduce pollution. Josh Lendach, First Tee — Triangle University of Cincinnati Josh has earned the privilege to play golf at the University of Cincinnati where he will pursue his passions for golf and environmental/atmospheric sciences. Meghna Mazumdar, First Tee — Connecticut Boston College Scoring a 1430 on her SATs while achieving a 4.12 cumulative GPA, Meghna will study Business Economics where she will pursue her passion for investing in the stock market. Benjamin Nganga, First Tee — Tennessee University of Indiana A first-generation college student, Benjamin’s 4.46 GPA has earned him the prestigious Fry Scholarship to attend the University of Indiana Kelly Business School where he will double major in Finance and Computer Science. Kaleb Palm, First Tee — Central Florida Florida Atlantic University Graduating with 4.69 GPA, Kaleb will major in marketing and business while playing on the men’s golf team at Florida Atlantic University. Borina Sutikto, First Tee — Silicon Valley Santa Clara University A nine-year participant at First Tee — Silicon Valley, Borina is graduating with a 4.25 GPA and plans to study Accounting & Information Systems while playing on the women’s golf team. *** About PGA TOUR First Tee Foundation (“First Tee”) First Tee ( is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit youth development organization that is supported by the PGA TOUR. Its 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. Since its inception in 1997, First Tee has expanded to reach more than 3.6 million young people annually through its chapter network, in schools and at youth centers. Headquartered in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, USA, programs are delivered in all 50 United States and select international locations. President George W. Bush serves as Honorary Chair. Contacts: Sara Henika First Tee [email protected] Dana Gordon First Tee/BZA PR [email protected]

Mentzel Proves Heart, Golf Are All You Need to Impact Others

By Sara Wright, PGA TOUR Henry Mentzel was just seven years old when he was first introduced to First Tee. His parents had been searching for some basic golf lessons for their son and stumbled across First Tee — Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Little did they know, this program would end up providing so much more. First Tee would be one of the most influential programs in young Henry’s life and would prove a catalyst for his personal growth throughout the years. “I have been active in multiple sports throughout my childhood,” Henry explained. “I played soccer, basketball, baseball, just trying to figure out which I enjoyed the most. First Tee introduced golf in a way that allowed me to learn how to play the game, but also taught me life skills that I was able to apply across many areas of my young life. In the end, golf is the sport I enjoy the most.” Henry is currently at the Eagle level, but it was during his time in the PAR level that he learned a valuable lesson on perseverance and how to succeed in golf by continuing through bad breaks and his own mistakes. This lesson also helped him in other aspects of his life. “I applied the perseverance lesson in school, specifically, in Latin,” he said. “I struggled to understand the different parts of Latin grammar and the new vocabulary.  My school required Latin, so I had to figure out how to persevere through three years of an unspoken language that did not make sense to me.  I made a lot of vocabulary lists, agreed to get a tutor, and started staying after school for help nights. After applying myself, despite some not so great grades on assignments, I started making progress and now, in my third year, I have an A in the class.” Not only do these lessons shape Henry’s life, but they have had a big part in shaping others’ lives, as well. Coached from early on by Tom and Melissa Briner, they not only helped him discover his love for the game of golf, but also gave Henry the opportunity to coach other young golfers at First Tee. “Being able to introduce my friend Will Abel to the game of golf was very meaningful to me,” Henry reflected. “First Tee has given Will the opportunity to begin to learn the game of golf and me the opportunity to teach and play with him.  I enjoy that we now both have another common interest that we enjoy doing together.” This friendship between Will and Henry was one of the reasons he was recently awarded with the 2020 Heart of First Tee Award. This award given by First Tee — Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky recognizes individuals who embody the “Heart” of the First Tee through giving of time, talent or treasure; by demonstrating and living one of First Tee values; or by going above and beyond to promote or further their missions. “We are all living in extraordinary and trying times that have tested all of us in ways we couldn’t even imagine nine months ago,” Rosie Abel wrote in her nomination of Henry. “Despite these challenges, Henry – acting upon the values of the First Tee – found a way to make a difference in our son’s life. My son, Will, who has Down Syndrome, is not unlike most sixteen-year-olds — very outgoing, social, and full of energy. But the pandemic has proven to be particularly frustrating for him especially when Ohio shut down in March. His sense of isolation grew as the effects of the pandemic spread.” “When First Tee classes resumed in the summer, Henry continued to be that go-to person for Will,” Rosie continued. “He supports Will at the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati’s Buddy Walk and even invited Will to play a round of golf with him, knowing that Will was not as experienced as himself. Will is not the only recipient of Henry’s friendship. Many coaches and staff have witnessed his kindness and refreshing take on life, feeling joy in other’s successes. We suspect there are many other people who have been touched by Henry and consider him to be on their “go-to team.” Henry currently caddies, is a member of HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) and Books For Kids (a club where students write and illustrate a book imagined patients at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital) he also regularly volunteers with his family at a soup kitchen. During the summer, Henry volunteers in First Tee classes where he is a positive role model for the younger kids in the program. “The core values the First Tee teaches are very important for kids and teens today,” Henry continued. “I really believe these core values build kids to be better, stronger, and smarter on and off the golf course each day. First Tee also teaches kids social and mental skills on how to interact and bring out the best in themselves and their teammates.  First Tee teaches how to set specific goals and, more importantly, what it takes to achieve them. These essential skills help prepare kids for their future and provide tools for success.” As Henry prepares for his future, one of his immediate goals is to place in the top 10 in one of the golf tournaments he plans to compete in this summer. He is also striving to achieve the A honor role during his freshman year at Walnut Hills High School. His long terms goals are to play college golf and get into medical school. “First Tee has taught me that to achieve these goals I will need to be confident, honest, and persevere through challenges,” Henry added. “Through this program and the coaches who mentor me, I always feel that I can do whatever I set my mind to do.  It has helped me understand that a bad day on the course (or in school or in life, in general) is just that – one bad day.  Tomorrow is a fresh start.”

First Tee Alumni Compete on the APGA Tour

We believe that golf provides a powerful vehicle to help kids build inner strength and life enhancing skills they can take to everything they do. Joseph Dent, Marcellus Dillard and Joey Stills are First Tee alumni using these life lessons as they compete on the APGA Tour, a launching pad for African Americans and minority golfers to compete and make their way to the PGA TOUR. The three alumni shared their experiences through First Tee and how it’s empowered them to develop their character as they pursue their goals.

Celebrating Global Diversity Month: Two Chapters Unite to Create a Global Community

Like our participants, what makes our chapters so special is that each one is unique in its own way. We celebrate their diverse perspectives because it makes our work even more powerful. Yet one thing that remains consistent at every chapter is their passion for supporting the next generation and the communities they live in. One way our chapters are doing this is by creating a space that makes every individual feel like they belong. A culture of acceptance is deeply rooted in our values as an organization as we seek to understand walks of life that are different from our own. Two of our chapters, First Tee — Greater Pasadena and First Tee — Korea, have brought this to life in a meaningful new way. In 2019, the two chapters became official sister chapters in an effort for participants to share cultural experiences and explore opportunities beyond their community. Recently, participants and coaches from the two chapters were able to meet virtually to discuss a trending topic in communities across the globe: returning to school during a pandemic. During the video call, participants shared how they’re feeling and handling the return to school. Gloria from First Tee — Korea shared, “I think I should take responsibility for myself because if I don’t follow the rules, I could put my friends and family at risk.” Through the meeting, the participants realized that they have quite a bit in common despite growing up thousands of miles apart. They’re all adjusting to the “new normal,” and are leaning on the character strengths they’ve developed through First Tee to help conquer these challenges. Bob Baderian, Executive Director for First Tee — Greater Pasadena, summed up the experience: “This very positive partnership between First Tee — Greater Pasadena and First Tee — Korea encourages participants to share their experiences and perspectives and provides opportunities to educate them about the culture and history of their respective countries and communities. These meetings have resulted in increased knowledge and appreciation of cultures and lifestyles between our two chapters.” Founded in 2006, First Tee — Greater Pasadena has served more than 200,000 kids and teens. First Tee — Korea was founded in conjunction with the 2015 Presidents Cup and is one of six international chapters within the First Tee network. The sister chapters have a goal to one day provide an in-person experience for their participants to meet. This pandemic, among other challenges this year, has been more than we could have ever anticipated. It’s stories like these, of coming together to learn, appreciate, and build relationships, that inspire us as we work to empower youth to be game-changers and make this a better world.

Participant Aaron Hall-King Overcomes Daily Challenges with Support of Mentors and Programs at First Tee — Metropolitan New York

USGA grant helps First Tee chapters keep programs running during the pandemic

Aaron Hall-King, a New Rochelle native, was attending Albert Leonard Middle School this past March when it became the first school in New York to close due to COVID-19. His mother Kira gave him words to live by.

“The school building may be closed, but the learning continues.”

Kira was the first to reach out when First Tee — Metropolitan New York announced online learning and tutoring. First Tee has become a comfort zone for Aaron, who has been diagnosed with ADHD and needs additional help with instructions. Aaron enrolled in First Tee Life Skills and Education programs in 2014 when he was in the second grade. Since that time, program director, Karen Les Pierre shares that his grades and organizational skills have improved dramatically. Karen didn’t miss a beat when First Tee’s campuses were closed due to the virus and immediately tutored Aaron utilizing FaceTime. “I love First Tee, because they have great programs for the kids,” says Aaron’s mom, Kira. “Aaron will take individual lessons in the fall. He has really matured with First Tee. If it wasn’t for [First Tee], I don’t know where we would be.” Aaron is one of many participants reached by the chapter’s virtual programs which were supported in part by a recent USGA grant . So far, they have delivered more than 200 hours of virtual tutoring this year. In addition, hundreds of hours are being spent online and, on the phone, helping participants navigate the college and high school application process through the Path to College program. They also offered Summer STEM online, a six-week program focused on the sciences, computer programming and literacy. First Tee — Metropolitan New York is one of 51 First Tee chapters to receive a grant from the USGA towards their ongoing commitment to making the game more accessible and welcoming for juniors. In addition to the $200,000 that went to chapter grants, the association pledged $125,000 to help First Tee headquarters develop innovative digital tools that enable stronger connections between juniors, parents, chapters and coaches, bringing the USGA’s total investment to $325,000 for 2020. “Year after year we are seeing the positive impact that First Tee and other junior programs are having in breaking down barriers and connecting communities through sports,” said Mike Davis, CEO of the USGA. “It is vital for golf’s long-term health that we continue to create pathways for all juniors to participate.” First Tee brings kids and teens to the game of golf and leverages it as a catalyst for personal growth through experiences that build inner strength, self-confidence, and resilience. Through chapters in 150 communities and more than 10,000 schools and 1,200 after-school partnerships, First Tee reaches kids ages 5-18 from all backgrounds. Learn more about our character building programs and how you can get involved.

First Tee is Showing Up Stronger after 23 Years

For more than a year, we have been working on a revitalization of the First Tee brand to ensure we stay connected with today’s young people

For more than two decades, we’ve been helping kids and teens learn life skills and build core values using the game of golf as the vehicle. Now, it’s time for us to write our own growth story. In May 2019, we began a process of reflecting on who we are, what we’re capable of and how we can show up stronger for this generation of kids. This brand evolution is grounded in research and insights from key stakeholders and is an updated reflection of who First Tee is and our promise to help empower kids to build their strength of character. Since 1997, when First Tee was first launched in Central Park, Manhattan, NY, the intention was clear: leveraging one of the most engaging sports to enrich the lives of young people. It’s been a lot of hard work, but we are proud to now be serving many communities through our network of chapters, schools and community partnerships. It’s all about empowering kids. And we still think golf is the perfect platform in which to do it. “There is little doubt the world has changed significantly over the last 23 years,” said Greg McLaughlin, CEO of First Tee. “Today’s kids and teens are facing pressures that are different from previous generations, and it’s important that we look in the mirror to ensure we are approaching our work with as much relevance and awareness of today’s families as possible. I am proud of the team who has worked so hard to really understand our participants, alumni, parents, coaches, volunteers, chapters, donors and many more who pour their hearts into our mission each day in their communities. “This year has been challenging on many levels. We debated holding tight on this project, but in the end, our chapters were hungry for the ability to reinforce the incredible work they do through this brand refresh, so we decided to move forward now.” The brand evolution was led by Sub Rosa, a brand strategy and design practice, and included PGA TOUR creative, marketing and communications teams. The evolution includes refreshed brand purpose and story, as well as a new logo, which is a metaphor for the growth guidance at the heart of First Tee. The changes also include removing “The” from the organization’s name and updated colors and patterns. We will continue to build experiences that build character to empower kids through a lifetime of new challenges and continuous personal growth. By seamlessly integrating the game of golf with a life skills curriculum, we create active learning experiences that build inner strength, self-confidence and resilience that kids can carry to everything they do. These character education programs are offered at golf courses, schools and youth centers in all 50 states and at six international locations.

Jakari Harris embodies values and lessons from First Tee to help support fellow student athletes

This time of year, many college students are preparing to head to their school and prepare for the upcoming school year. But this year looks different, especially for many student-athletes like Jakari Harris. Due to the financial impact of COVID-19, some universities have made the difficult decision to cut programs from the athletic department. This can be devastating for students who are also losing their scholarships, which means they are now paying for their education. First Tee – Metro Atlanta alum, Jakari Harris, is doing something about it. A graduate of Hampton University and a former member of the golf team, Jakari was disheartened to learn that the golf team’s funding had been cut upon her graduation. She and a few other teammates have since started a funding effort to help those who are affected.

“Because of First Tee, I was able to play collegiate golf and would like that opportunity to be available to athletes at Hampton again.” 

Jakari’s act of service is directly rooted in the values she learned while a participant at First Tee – Metro Atlanta. We asked her a few questions about her experience, and this is what she had to say. After being exposed to the game of golf at a young age, my dad started looking for golf programs around our neighborhood. The first chapter I joined was First Tee – Atlanta, but I switched to First Tee – East Lake once I transferred to Charles R. Drew Charter School. The home course was right across from the school, so I could just walk over after classes and practice almost every day. First Tee emphasizes the fact that participants not only learn golf skills, but also life skills. A lot of the values I hold near and dear to my heart are the very values that were taught in First Tee classes. My personal favorites were integrity and perseverance. Aside from life skills I learned, I also gained a family with First Tee. All of the coaches at my home chapter were extremely supportive to me on and off the course. They went above and beyond, and I consider many of them as my mentors. First Tee camps always presented me with both new experiences and challenges. I soaked in all the instruction I could from every drill and practice session. Whenever I faced a challenge, I referred back to what I was taught earlier and tried to apply it. When I wasn’t successful, I could always ask one of the coaches for help. This is the same way I take on the new experiences and challenges in life. I take the experience for what it is and try to learn as much as I can. Then, I look at the challenges from every angle possible. Because of First Tee, I have no problem asking for help and learning from my mistakes. One of my First Tee mentors is Coach Brittny Lott, and I actually still keep in contact with her regularly. She actually does my hair from time to time. Her love for the Lord pushes me to develop a better relationship with God. She was very patient and encouraging when I first met her. Because of my competitiveness, I would sometimes be too hard on myself when I didn’t perform well during competition. She would give me encouraging words and talk me down. I called her after one of my tournaments in college when I shot a terrible score. I just kept saying “I don’t know why I keep doing this. I know I can do better than this.” She brought up a very good point that will always be in the back of my mind. Things happen in golf that you can’t control. Even professionals have their off days. Instead of reacting to what I scored on the last hole, I can choose to not give up and do my very best from then on. If you can walk away knowing you did your best, that’s all you can ask for.

“My biggest takeaway from First Tee is that family doesn’t have to be blood.”

First Tee coaches have had one of the biggest impacts on my life. They care about each and every participant. Even when I would go to a First Tee camp where I didn’t know anyone, the coaches made me feel so welcome and at home. The relationships I have formed through this organization are priceless. Looking forward, I eventually want to become a professor at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). After graduating in STEM from an HBCU, I know that there are very good students there who just need better resources. I was able to end up where I am because of resources I came across and relationships I developed. I am now in the Biomedical Engineering PhD program at Georgia Tech and Emory University. First Tee taught me how to network and keep in contact with the people you meet. Sometimes it’s more about WHO you know than WHAT you know. The core values I learned will help me through grad school and beyond. If you wish to help support Jakari and her fellow Hampton Golf Alumni in their efforts to off-set the lost scholarships and bring the golf program back, visit their GoFundMe page.

How First Tee’s Valuable Lessons Helped Dr. Amber Hardeman realize her dreams

Dr. Amber Hardeman started with First Tee of Dallas in 2005. (Courtesy of Hardeman)
Dr. Amber Hardeman started with First Tee of Dallas in 2005.
By Sara Wright, Guest blogger, PGA TOUR Dr. Amber Hardeman is an inspiration. Not only does she have an incredible work ethic and multiple degrees, including a B.A. in Spanish Language and Literature from Vanderbilt University, a Master of Public Health from the University of Alabama, a MBA from Tulane’s Freeman School of Business and a Doctor of Medicine from Tulane School of Medicine, all of which she earned before the age of 30, but Amber has made it her life’s mission to serve the underprivileged with her career in medicine. And in the midst of everything that this country is currently experiencing – the civil unrest, the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis – this personal aspiration, to work tirelessly on the front lines to decrease the disease’s burden on the minority population, is proving ever more important. “It’s tough and humbling to work so hard while feeling I have not mastered anything,” Hardeman said in a recent interview with Forbes. “I entered medicine to help minimize disparities and inequality in healthcare. COVID-19 has proven to affect an incredibly disproportionate number of African Americans due to a multitude of factors, including racism, socioeconomic disadvantage, barriers to access and higher rates of co-morbid health conditions. Regardless, no matter how difficult things have been, I am very grateful for the journey.” Her journey can be, in large part, traced back to her time with First Tee. Little did she know, when she started with First Tee of Dallas in 2005, the program would significantly transform her life. She gained dozens of opportunities and progressed into a great golfer, but more importantly, she says, it was through First Tee, she also learned to be an excellent person. Each new opportunity affirmed fundamentals she learned from the program, ranging from communication skills to goal setting to how to keep calm in stressful situations.
“It was after being named ‘Most Outstanding Female Golfer’ and ‘Most Outstanding Female Leader’ in my chapter, that I was truly reassured that I wanted to use my skills to positively impact other people,” Dr. Hardeman said. “The confidence I gained in First Tee has helped me make changes in my local community as well as worldwide. I developed a passion for service and helping others. Not only did I do community service trips in Europe, but also completed medical missions in South America. As a current physician, I still strive to use the tools I learned in First Tee to meaningfully contribute to my patients and community. “When I think of First Tee, I think of character development and life connections,” she continued. “First Tee has meant more to me than I ever thought possible. As I progressed through different skill levels from Par to Ace, my immediate and future goals simultaneously took form. One of the first things we learned was how to set and achieve reachable goals. I’ve been doing that ever since 2005 and plan to continue doing so throughout my career. A career that has led Dr. Hardeman to her position as a resident physician in Internal Medicine-Pediatrics at Tulane School of Medicine and entering what she describes as a ‘battle zone’ in New Orleans.  As a bilingual African American woman, she breaks through the language and cultural barriers to help treat the patients and not ‘just’ the disease. She does her best to ameliorate pain, suffering and disease for her patients and aspires to decrease disease burden on the minority population.
“A worldwide pandemic isn’t something anyone can fully prepare for,” she said. “Yet, one of my biggest take-aways from the program was to learn to accept the uncontrollable. I can’t count how many times situations occur in golf that are unpredictable or incredibly difficult. Progressing through medical school and becoming a doctor is quite similar. I learned patience, respect, problem solving, and how to maintain focus. Above all, I learned to never stop learning. First Tee taught me that there is always room for improvement. I always strive for excellence. “Because of my experiences,” she added, “I know that no matter what you are doing in life you can always be better, you can always continue to work and grow to become the best version of yourself possible.” Now, if that isn’t a message worth spreading, I don’t know what is.
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Sara Diaz is Changing the Way the PGA TOUR Relates to its Multicultural Fan Base

By Sara Wright, Guest blogger, PGA TOUR When the First Tee of Greater San Antonio first put clubs in the hands of the Diaz family about 15 years ago, there was no way to predict just how much the game would impact the family’s life. Sara, the eldest of three children, her brother Adolfo, the middle sibling, and the youngest, Elsa, all learned to play golf with their dad through the program, but in the case of the Diaz siblings, their time with First Tee provided so much more. While Sara was born in the U.S., she and her family moved to her mother’s native Mexico to grow up learning Spanish. About a decade later, the family returned to the U.S., with Sara, Adolfo and Elsa then needing to re-learn English. That’s where the First Tee program came in, allowing the siblings to not just learn the sport of golf, but perhaps more importantly to practice their English in a fun and supportive environment. Of course, Sara learned a lot more than that during her time in the First Tee program. She also learned important character development, goal setting, fundraising techniques, public speaking, essay writing and confidence to travel on her own. When Sara qualified in 2008 for the prestigious Wal-Mart First Tee Open in Pebble Beach, the program’s top national opportunity, she was extremely lucky to have been paired with the legendary Tom Watson.  If that wasn’t exciting enough, she was featured on the Golf Channel during the tournament and was awarded the Oroweat Healthy Minds Scholarship during a surprise press conference. She recalls that week as ‘truly unbelievable.’ In 2010, Sara was selected to be a junior reporter at the WGC-CA Championship in Doral, FL, where she worked for the first time inside of the PGA TOUR’s media center. Later in the fall, she was chosen to go to Walt Disney World in Orlando for a Future Leaders Forum. That same year, she was given another incredible opportunity to participate in a commercial with the great Jack Nicklaus for the Royal Bank of Scotland in Jupiter, FL., where she snuck in a putting lesson from the greatest golfer of all time. After she graduated from the First Tee program as the first participant in the San Antonio chapter to complete the Ace-level certification, her opportunities with golf continued. Initially recruited to play golf at Texas A&M-Commerce, Sara progressed to the University of Richmond Division I program where she was offered a full scholarship for her Master’s degree and the opportunity compete alongside her younger sister in 2014.  Needless to say, the Diaz sisters had a blast playing together – albeit for just a year – on the same team. In 2017, she was asked to return as an alumnus to her favorite place, Pebble Beach, and share her experiences as a speaker for The First Tee Pure Insurance Legends and Leaders Dinner alongside Condoleezza Rice and Leon Panetta. Even though Sara knew this sport would always play a huge part in her life, what she didn’t realize at the time, was that all of these experiences were preparing her for this current role at the PGA TOUR, where she now manages their multicultural marketing strategy. Hired in March 2019, she excels in positioning the TOUR brand in unexpected places and has helped produce and distribute content through a variety of different channels allowing golf to be portrayed in a new light to a larger demographic. Sara helped in the success of the TOUR’s recently-launched Spanish Instagram page, @pgatouresp, where she hosted the eSeries Video Game Challenge in Spanish to show the behind-the-scenes of what goes on during the recording and reveal the personalities of our players in a casual setting. Sara also had a huge part in adding to the new PGA TOUR and First Tee’s co-sponsored site, Links to Learning. With her help, this site, which was established shortly after schools closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and aims to provide golf-centric educational material into homes, added a section for youth to learn Spanish and additionally, she worked with a team to translate the whole site to Spanish – Most recently, Sara also had the honor of interviewing the Commissioner of the PGA TOUR, Jay Monahan and Harold Varner III on the return to golf and the current social injustice in our country. Check it out here: “Because of golf, I have met wonderful people from all walks of life and have opened my eyes to different lifestyles and perspectives,” she said. “I feel extremely lucky and appreciative of all the experiences the sport has provided me. I have been honored to help create awareness, address misconceptions and curate the onsite tournament experience so people from all ages, races and backgrounds can feel welcome and enjoy the sport that has been such a big part of my life. My goal is to have multicultural initiatives interwoven into everything we do at the PGA TOUR,” Sara added. “I’m very excited for the future of this organization and how we can continue to connect with ALL of our fans!”

How Positivity Can Help Us Persevere in Times of Uncertainty

By Sara Wright, Guest blogger, PGA TOUR Positivity and perseverance have always been revered characteristics. This seems true now more than ever before. For most, regular day-to-day routines were flipped completely upside down during the COVID-19 pandemic. And it was a rapid change to the norm. As the global health crisis took shape, most children saw their schools closed and their sports and after-school activities canceled. This inevitably included First Tee’s in-person programs, which were suspended for the unforeseeable future. Many parents created a virtual learning environment for their children at home. While the lucky ones worked remotely, many faced layoffs as businesses closed their doors and unemployment rates skyrocketed. Our work-life balance shifted and even regular interactions with family and friends changed drastically almost overnight. While some states begin to slowly reopen, the future is still unclear. Around the world, people and businesses are doing their part: helping others, spreading good news and simply reassuring each other with signs or messages of positivity that we WILL get through this. We will persevere. Examples of golfers using perseverance and positivity are also plentiful, but the name that sticks out to us is one that we’ve heard frequently over the past year.
Photo courtesy of the PGA TOUR
She is not a professional golfer (at least not yet), but Amy Bockerstette, along with her iconic self-assurance and her “I got this” mentality, is a player who knows first-hand what it takes to persevere against all odds. If you are one of the few who have not heard of ‘Amazing Amy’ yet, don’t worry. We got you. Watch this video released by the PGA TOUR about Amy and her viral moment with Gary Woodland in 2019 on the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale. So, what can we learn from Amy? Well, her story is one that truly shows just how powerful positive attitude and self-talk can be. “Amy’s energy, her love, her attitude was so contagious,” four-time PGA TOUR winner Woodland said. “I need more of that, and I think the world needs more of that. Her positive self-talk is stuff I’m still using to this day.” Woodland credited Amy’s positivity and perseverance as a driving force to his U.S. Open victory that came a few months after he met her. So if it works for Gary and Amy, it can work for all of us.

Positive self-talk is an essential tool in perseverance.

Positive self-talk helps boost your confidence. This seems like a no-brainer, but studies have shown that positive self-talk is among the most efficient and effective means of increasing a person’s self-confidence. Many psychologists believe confidence is one of the primary prerequisites to personal and professional success. In addition, it helps eliminates stress. According to the American Heart Association, positive self-talk can aid in controlling stress. As a result, it makes you feel calmer and less anxious, reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and other physical ailments brought on by stress. How can you practice positive self-talk?
  • Create a positive outcome in your head: Imagine a goal and how you will accomplish it. Once you keep this intent in mind, it becomes easier for you to accomplish and set out steps to achieve it.
  • Build on your accomplishments: This can be done in two parts. First, remember your previous accomplishments. These memories will make you feel good about yourself. Then, praise yourself when you achieve your new goals.
  • Repeated affirmations: Focus on regularly saying optimistic statements about yourself, your present endeavors or what goals you intend to accomplish. By repeating these affirmations, a person has a higher chance of recalling positive thoughts instead of negative ones.
One of the goals of First Tee is to better equip our children for whatever comes their way. With that in mind, we have provided a vision board activity to complete with your child at home. A vision board is a physical representation of a goal or set of goals that you’re aiming to achieve. It is a collage of items that are meant to kick start their imagination and help visualize those goals with words of positivity and affirmation. Check out the project linked here on our new Links to Learning website. With positive self-talk, we CAN persevere even through the most uncertain and trying of times. Remember, you’ve got this. (Now, just repeat that to yourself as often as it takes!)

Alumni Spotlight: A Foundation of Values

Our character education programs aim to put youth on a path for success. First Tee Alumni continue to demonstrate this long-lasting impact by sharing their success stories. Owais Durrani is one such alum from First Tee of Greater Houston. Owais uncovered his self-confidence through First Tee and is now making a difference in his community.

Owais’ Story:

When Owais Durrani slips on his white doctor’s coat, he stands ready to help treat whatever illness or injury walks through the emergency room doors at UT Health in San Antonio. Currently finishing up his residency, Owais has quickly learned his profession is one that demands a lot – self-confidence, determination and resilience – characteristics he’s been building on since his time at First Tee.

“Life gets difficult and complex at times, but even the most challenging of circumstances boils down to a few basic principles – many of them included in First Tee’s values.”

During his time at First Tee of Greater Houston, Owais developed an interest in social issues and says First Tee gave him the confidence to pursue opportunities that he once didn’t see possible for himself as a first-generation American. Owais received his dual-Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Political Science from the University of Texas. He took his passion up a notch by attending medical school. In his gap year, Owais interned at the White House under the Obama administration. He remained dedicated to learning about how to address health disparities, one of his life’s greatest passions. Confident in his foundation, Owais is excited about his future giving back to underserved communities.