Real people: Middle school girl inspired by pro golfer

Credit: Credit: Wayne Thompson

Credit: Credit: Wayne Thompson

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Information: www.thefirstteeatlanta.org

Last week, 14-year-old Alejandra Ayala has accomplished a feat usually reserved for high-rolling players or top-tier VIPs: She played 18 holes with world-class pro golfer Rory McIlroy, who was in Charlotte last week for the Wells Fargo Championship tournament.

Ayala, an eighth-grader at Webb Bridge Middle in Alpharetta, was part of a pro-am scheduled before the professional match. She earned the chance to play by producing a winning video about the important mentors in her life. The contest, run by the tournament sponsor Wells Fargo and First Tee, a youth program that teaches life skills and values through golf, challenged young golfers to identify a person who has had an impact on their lives.

“But it was very hard to name just one,” said Ayala. “I’ve had so many coaches to who helped me get to where I am today. So I talked about several.”

Ayala’s video scored a 4-day trip to Charlotte where she was also the only female in the pro-am. She specifically asked to play with McIlroy since she’d seen him in action a few years ago.

“In 2012, I saw him play on Kiawah Island and thought his putting was really nice,” she said. “I thought he’d be a great person to play with, and he was. He’s a really honest and funny guy, and he helped me a lot with my putting. The 18 holes went by super fast.”

In a released statement, McIlroy said it was “good fun” to play with Ayala. “She wanted to learn a lot; she asked me a lot of questions. She hits it long for a 14-year-old.”

Ayala is no stranger to the greens. She first took up the sport five years ago when her brother’s stories about a summer golf camp intrigued her. Soon after, the family joined a local club where Ayala learned about First Tee, a program based at John White Park in southwest Atlanta. Since then, she has been a weekly participant, showing up on Saturday mornings to help younger golfers and learn some new techniques for herself. Last year, she was one of the youngest winners of the Gabrielsen Cup, an annual First Tee tournament.

“Sometimes the drive takes more than an hour one way,” said dad and driver Fernando Ayala. “But we don’t mind. First Tee was the first place she went where it didn’t matter that she didn’t have any golfing skills. It’s open to everybody, no matter who you are or what skills you have.”

In addition to the Saturday sessions, Ayala works on her game every day, switching back from practicing techniques to playing a round with her dad.

“We try to play as much as we can, and I know I’ll keep playing when I get to high school,” said Ayala, who is heading to Alpharetta High. “We’ll see where it goes.”

Already, Ayala’s father admits that she and her brother are better golfers than he is. “Oh yeah,” said Ayala, “I usually beat him.”