Tyler Mistretta found a nice way to celebrate his 17th birthday.
He and Natalia Jimenez, 17, of Pembroke Pines, were two of 78 teens from First Tee chapters across the country who were selected for the Pure Insurance Championship Impacting The First Tee. The tournament was held Sept. 24-29 and aired on Golf Channel.
“It was a big-time birthday present,” said Mistretta, of North Palm Beach, who celebrated his birthday that month. “It was easily one of the best experiences of my life, being a very avid golfer. It’s my passion and it is what I want to do.
“To play the best golf course in the world, you can’t go wrong. I played well and got to meet some really nice people.”
Mistretta and Jimenez each were paired with a PGA Tour Champions player and two amateurs. Mistretta played with Carlos Franco, while Jimenez drew Mark Calcavecchia.
Jimenez and Calcavecchia missed the cut by two shots, carding a 9-under 134. Jimenez was representing The First Tee of Miami. Franco and Mistretta, representing the First Tee of The Palm Beaches, also missed the cut with a 5-under par, 138.
“It was amazing,” Jimenez said. “All the events they hosted for the junior players was unforgettable, especially the food that they served. Playing and seeing Pebble Beach in person looked very different than it does on TV.
“Just being on the green on hole 18 and looking into the beach felt like I was dreaming,” she added.
Concluded Mistretta: “It was 100 times better then you could ever imagine. This is an experience that all students of the First Tee should strive for.”
The teens played with confidence and perseverance on two world-class courses in Pebble Beach Golf Links and Poppy Hills, while being mentored by legends of the game – their PGA Tour Champions partners.
Jimenez said she plans to play golf at Division II Rollins College in Winter Park next year.
“I’d like to study psychology and focus on the development of children,” said the senior at Archbishop McCarthy High School. “I want to make an impact in the community by starting an organization that collects new or used golf attire for underprivileged children.”
Jimenez said she has benefited from participating in the First Tee program, which is a national organization that began in 1997 as a way to bring an affordable junior golf program to communities that did not have one.
“I have become a better person and golfer,” Jimenez said. “I’ve realized how strong and important The First Tee’s core values are in all aspects of my life. The program has helped me build my confidence and develop respect. I spend more time giving back to the community and enjoy helping others who are in need. It inspired me so much that I created my own hurricane relief in my neighborhood.”
Even though Mistretta has been playing golf since he was an infant, he only took it up competitively a year ago. He helped Palm Beach Gardens High School win districts for the first time since 1999. Mistretta also qualified for the state tournament.
“I took it up early sophomore year,” said Mistretta, who averages in the low 70s. “Before that I was just playing for fun with my dad. Once I beat him that first time, I wanted to play more and more and more. Once you hit a lot of good shots in a row, you want to keep playing.
He said being part of the First Tee has been one of the most formative experiences for him, adding that he didn’t realize it until he got to high school.
“When you get into high school, you get to do different activities and college prep,” Mistretta said. “It is great for getting volunteer hours and golf instruction. And I got to be in a few things outside of golf, like being in a commercial with Sergio García, and I also caddie at a couple of golf clubs. The First Tee offers scholarships and it just makes your life so much better.”
Mistretta, who stands at an imposing 6-foot, 8-inches, said being a coach at the First Tee is very rewarding.
“Just seeing a kid so happy and having fun, especially because some of them are not very privileged children,” Mistretta said. “It’s great seeing them play golf and learn life skills and that is so much fun. I work the summer camps, too.”