Robert Carter, a 16-year-old at Little Rock Catholic High School, was out in California last weekend, though not because he wanted to hang out in a state that has real college football teams.
He was playing golf, but not at just any course, and not with just any golfers.
Carter and Nick Wilson, two of the youngsters who practice their golf at Little Rock’s Jack Stephens Golf Academy/The First Tee, made it through various qualifying levels to be chosen as two of 78 golfers to play with the Champions Tour pros in the Wal-Mart First Tee Open on the Monterrey Peninsula.
That meant at least one round of golf at Pebble Beach Golf Links, every golfer’s dream along with getting to play Augusta National in Georgia.
Carter, as luck would have it, also got to be paired with former U.S. Open winner Scott Simpson, who would go on to win the tournament, and play in the same foursome with movie star Bill Murray, which meant the well-mannered lad from Little Rock got some serious face time and swing time on national TV, first on the Golf Channel on Friday (live and in a repeated segment that night) and then Sunday on NBC.
Anytime Murray is playing in a televised golf tournament, you can expect some hijinks. It turned out that Carter and the Golf Channel production crew pulled a fast one on the “Caddyshack” star when Carter, late in Friday’s round, donned Murray’s trademark Astroturf tam o’shanter with a golf ball and little flag on top. Murray, offering commentary on TGC, said he’d decided that for Carter to get somewhere he should call himself “Bobo” instead of Robert. Bobo’s swing was analyzed by commentator and pro Gary Koch, and there were high-fives regularly all around the foursome (there was an older amateur in the group on Friday who barely got a notice) when the players, including Carter, made birdies.
Sunday, the Carter-Simpson team was in contention for the junior-senior title, but settled for 20-under and a tie for second, while Simpson drained a winning birdie putt on the 18th hole to win the Champions Tour event by one shot over Dana Quigley. Carter made a nationally televised birdie Sunday on No. 17 at Pebble Beach, the same hole Jack Nicklaus hit the famed 1-iron shot to six inches in 1972 and where Tom Watson chipped in for birdie to beat Nicklaus in 1982.
Carter is a super-nice kid whom I’ve met this summer while he, Wilson and some of the other teens work with little kids in the First Tee’s “Little Linksters” program for 3-to-5-year-olds, as well as with older children on Saturday mornings. The boys are kind enough and patient enough to show the little ones how to hold the club correctly, how to keep their feet in place and move with the shot. They know where they came from and know that golf’s future is on that same practice tee every Saturday morning.
Carter shared a few weeks ago that he’d love to land a college golf scholarship. We’ve got to think he’ll get serious looks, especially after the attention the First Tee Open gave him.
Paula Creamer, the young LPGA star who held a two-hour exhibition Monday at the First Tee, played in the Wal-Mart First Tee Open two years ago. In fact, Creamer didn’t even charge an appearance fee for her show in Little Rock on Monday, which was more interactive with the kids than it was watching a pro bomb shots, like these things often go. The young girls in the audience got a little carried away asking Creamer every “pink” question they could think of — Creamer is known on Tour as the “Pink Panther” for having lots of pink in her wardrobe, bag and clubs. But, again, it was another case of someone young and very good at the game helping others because of what First Tee has meant to them.
It’s not just for kids at First Tee, as I’ve mentioned in this space often. First Tee has the best public practice range around and as good a nine-hole course as you’ll find, as well as a shorter nine holes to improve on the short game. The organization regularly schedules fun and free exhibitions such as Monday’s with Creamer. Adults can join the First Tee, and they can get lessons from the solid instruction staff on hand. Or, they can be fortunate to be standing in the right place and be talking about golf, like I was the other day, and get a helpful tip from a good golfer there that might turn your game in the right direction.
I’m glad there are terrific people like Robert Carter and Paula Creamer around who want to give back to the game, and I’m also very glad there is a First Tee in Little Rock where they can do it.