Local teen sets sights on 18th at Pebble Beach

MINT HILL – The dream scenario has Sam Wimbrow walking up to the 18th green at the historic Pebble Beach golf course with a legend like Fred Couples at his side this Sunday. Throw in the fact it would be the Mint Hill teen’s 18th birthday, and you’re talking about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Sam is one of 80 youths from across the nation who will compete in the 2013 Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach this week. He’ll be teamed up with a Champions Tour player and an amateur for rounds at Pebble Beach and the Del Monte Golf Course starting with a practice round that took place on Wednesday then the tournament on Friday and Saturday. If Wimbrow’s pairing makes the cut Saturday, Sept. 28, he’ll be in the thick of things on his 18th birthday at what’s considered by many as the United States’ golf mecca.

“My mindset right now is a little crazy,” Sam said after finishing a practice round on Monday, Sept. 23. He was scheduled to fly out to California on Tuesday thanks to The First Tee of Charlotte, which teaches kids life skills through golf. There’s nearly 200 chapters of the organization across the country, all of which allow their members to apply for a spot in the tournament. Each golfer is picked based on their application essay, playing resume and interviews.

This is the first time a Charlotte-area player has been picked as one of the competitors in the program’s 10 years, according to The First Tee of Charlotte’s Kaitlyn Jarman.

“Sam’s golf ability is definitely there,” Jarman said. “To see Sam hit a golf ball is unparalleled; Sam has what it takes to play alongside the pros.”

Whether that’s true will be clear soon enough. Sam will be paired with a Champions Tour regular – he lists Couples and Jay Hass as two of his favorites – and set loose on a course he’s played many times on a video game console but never could have imagined he’d get a shot at before even going off to college. The home-schooled junior isn’t sure where he’s going for college yet, but he has his sights set on being a PGA regular one day.
This weekend could go a long way toward that goal.

“I’ll learn a lot from anyone I’m paired with,” Sam, who regularly plays the local Rocky River Golf Club in Concord and Charlotte Country Club, where he has a job as an outside cart attendant. “These guys have been playing pro golf for 30 years at least. The knowledge they can pass on would be invaluable.”

Sam may not have much left to learn, though, seeing how people already compare his swing to Masters champion Adam Scott. He’ll have his uncle on the bag as caddie this weekend, and his family in the stands. He’s been playing five hours a day, about six days a week, focusing on the little things like his short game and researching the Pebble Beach course – walking the holes in his mind.

“I’m a little anxious,” he admitted. “It’s just a huge honor to be picked.”

Find more information on The First Tee of Charlotte and Sam’s trip on the organization’s website, www.thefirstteecharlotte.org.

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