Adams, Swearingen hit the Pebble Beach links in First Tee Open

Ask any young golfer, and he’ll tell you about his idols in the game, the professionals he tries to imitate from opening drive to final putt. That young golfer might even tell you about his dream to play alongside those same pros in the future, walking the course side-by-side with golf bags in hand.

But this weekend, that will be a reality for 78 of the nation’s junior golfers, as they pair with professionals and play the links at Pebble Beach in the Nature Valley First Tee Open.

Martavious Adams, who attends Ben Franklin Academy, and Tommy Swearingen III, who attends South Cobb High School, join the junior field in the tournament July 8-10 as part of the official Champions Tour.

“It offers them the opportunity to play with world-class players on a world-class facility,” said Jeff Dunovant, director of instruction at The First Tee of East Lake. “People go their lifetime without getting to play Pebble Beach.”

Swearingen, 16, is paired with World Golf Hall of Famer Larry Nelson, who grew up in Acworth. Adams, 17, will play with pro golfer Jim Thorpe.

“I just want to learn from who I get paired with, and hopefully they’ll give me some good tips to take back home with me,” Swearingen said.

Adams added, “It’s good to see how these guys play golf differently — how they focus on each and every shot and make sure that it counts.”

While this is Swearingen’s first trip to Pebble Beach, Adams played in last year’s tournament, hitting the course with world-famous golfer Tom Watson.

“He made you comfortable, and he would help you with any part of the golf course that you needed help with,” Adams said.

While the golf was memorable in itself, it was the time spent with a pro such as Watson that had the most impact on Adams. The pair still swap emails a couple of times each week.

“When we were on the driving range on Friday night, he called me over in front of everyone,” Adams said. “He gave me a nickname and said, ‘Hey Magic, meet me at the chipping green.’”

The Pebble Beach tournament is unique in that it is open only to junior golfers who are active members of a First Tee program. Applicants for the tournament were judged on golf ability, participation in their chapter, progression through the program’s curriculum and involvement in extracurricular activities. Additionally, each applicant was interviewed and answered a set of essay questions.

Adams has been a member of The First Tee of East Lake for six years, while Swearingen has been a member of Atlanta’s chapter for 10 years.

First Tee aims to teach young people character, values and healthy choices through the game of golf. Through a life-skills experience, First Tee is able to incorporate life lessons into golf and classroom instruction.

“It’s not only golf,” Swearingen said. “They teach you life skills and the nine core values.”

Some of those values taught by First Tee include honesty, respect, sportsmanship, perseverance and integrity. To advance through each level of the program, participants must receive certification, a process that involves golf and life-skills tests.

“If they don’t pass the test, that’s where the life skills come in,” Dunovant said. “They have to remain positive, keep working on their game.”

Swearingen picked up golf 13 years ago and now holds a USGA handicap of 2.4. Adams started playing golf after it was offered as a part of his gym class six years ago. He now has a USGA handicap of 3. Something about the sport keeps them both coming back.

“I’m a really competitive person, and I just enjoy competing against different people at each tournament,” Swearingen said.

“All my friends would be outside playing basketball and football, and I’d walk past them with my golf clubs,” Adams said.

For Adams and Swearingen, the First Tee program has offered the opportunity to grow as golfers and young people, while meeting people of all ages and backgrounds.

“Networking can get you a long way throughout life,” Adams said. “You may meet someone that you never thought you would meet, and that person can help you out in the future.”