The First Tee Junior Course Reporters

The First Tee Junior Course Reporters: 2015 Shell Houston Open 
Blogs from Wednesday, April 1 and Thursday, April 2 

It's SHO Time: Empowering the Youth 
Mihir Annaldasula, 17 yrs

The Shell Houston Open: A Chance for Children. Throughout the many years that I have witnessed this event, I have seen an abundance of opportunities for members of The First Tee. These opportunities range from standard bearing, to caddying for players to even being Junior Course reporters like myself and Nikita Patel. The slogan is sincerely fitting in the sense that the plethora of opportunities during this week allows young people to experience a once in a lifetime opportunity that associates themselves with a game that will stick with them for a lifetime.

During the week, I was accompanied by The First Tee mentors, Brian Ladet and Melissa DeGrand. We sat in on press conferences with elite players such as Anirban Lahiri, Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler and the defending SHO Champion, Matt Jones. It was a treat to sit in and ask a few questions to Anirban, a golfer from India, who talked to us about how he adjusts to the different environments and conditions he played in as well as his travel schedule and how adjusts to jet lag. Lahiri explained that he has to travel frequently on this tour of the United States and will stay here for 5 months. When asked on how he packs for America, he says he packs light and plans on buying essentials here to avoid carrying too much luggage. It was a neat experience to sit in on a press conference with Patrick Reed, number 15 in the world. I played with him in the Pro-Junior before the tournament in 2014; he remembered and took a picture with me. Reed, after his practice round on Wednesday, elaborated on how Augusta is a golf course that "you need to know where to put the golf ball". On Thursday, however, it was all about taking care of business in Houston as Reed started off strong and in his round included an eagle and a hole-out for birdie on his final hole which put him at four under. Rickie Fowler has a national PSA about The First Tee program with Sergio Garcia. Fowler stated that "The First Tee is great in growing the game to getting the youth involved," and "understanding responsibilities," that children will undergo in the future. 

One of the most intriguing aspects of running a PGA Tour event was visiting ShotLink which is where all of the statics are drawn out of. There are two teams in ShotLink where they travel to PGA Tour venues every other week. This job seemed especially stressful in the sense that the staff has to collaborate with volunteers and train them on how to use the equipment that will provide accurate statistics that can be posted online. ShotLink tracks over 500 statistics and sends the information to more than 500 countries. The representative explained that their most stressful days are Thursday mornings because all the volunteers are still learning how to handle the equipment so there are a lot of errors in their systems. Statistics in the computers on the trailer are sent out onto the internet as quickly as 15 seconds or less.

We also got to visit Player services where I got to meet the "moms" of the PGA Tour players for the week. Located at Player Services are spas, a medical center, an all you can eat buffet, and locker rooms. They catered to the essential needs of players at the golf course and made sure that their time in Houston went by unhindered. The volunteers acted as concierges to the players just like they were at a "5-star hotel". Just like at a junior golf tournament, the players were required to sign in. The ladies at Player Services were kind enough to put Nikita and me through the exact same procedures that the contestants underwent before the tournament began. We first had to sign a paper which showed that we are at the venue and are ready to play. Then they asked if we needed to put any tickets at will call for their friends or family. After that, we were officially ready to participate in the tournament.

Callaway gave Nikita and me a tour of their equipment truck. The staff with Callaway took care of all the golfing needs of their staff players. An important job of the staff on the truck was to monitor how their clients were playing so that they know what adjustments to make on their clubs promptly before the tournament starts. Steven, the player rep with Callaway, was generous enough to give us a hot and golf balls. The true Texas southern hospitality was displayed throughout the golf course everyone was so friendly which made the experience much more memorable and enjoyable.

I had the opportunity of eating lunch with a videographer for the Houston Rockets, Evan Gilber. He told us about his media to player interactions with the players on the team. Dwight Howard, unsurprisingly is one of the most enjoyable players to be around because of his outgoing personality. He also got video of Nikita and me at a press conference asking a few questions. Gilber is compiling video throughout the week to make a segment on The First Tee that will air later on this year.

I have been a part of The First Tee since I was seven years old. Thanks to this program, I have learned how to carry myself like a gentleman on and off the course, as well as mentor current members at The First Tee chapters. The First Tee is like a second family to me and I could not thank them enough for all that they have given me from participant opportunities to developing me into a better golfer to simply building long lasting relationships that will endure a lifetime.

The First Tee is a chance for children that should not be passed by. As a product of this outstanding program, the one thing that sticks out to me above other organizations is that in the program, everything that is taught will last a lifetime. The sport is obviously one of those things but it is taught in conjunction with life skills and core values that will help take me and many others a very long way in the future. The First Tee program impacts millions of children every single day and I am proud to say that I am one of those young people. One of the brightest parts of anyone's day is seeing a kid smile and this program has never failed to do so. For The First Tee, it is always SHO Time.  


It's SHO Time: The Two Day Experience  
Nikita Patel, 15 yrs

As a Junior Course Reporter, I was granted access to experience life changing moments and meet inspiring individuals. In these two days I have learned an abundance about different aspects of golf. Brian and Melissa led Mihir and me to visit behind the scenes of the Shell Houston Open.

We started out observing professional golfers giving private lessons to the sponsors of the Shell Houston Open. This showed me one of the ways professional golfers help create a better community. It seems that as a professional golfer they must also stand as role models for the future of the PGA Tour. 

We also visited the Callaway truck where we were granted a tour and given a hat along with a pack of Callaway golf balls by Steven. The tour was in the manufacturing truck where Steven informed us on how the truck benefits the players and what goes on. Steven told us about the relationships he had built with his players and how he gets to know them in order to select the right equipment for them. This would be the aspect of golf where player relations come into factor. Another example of player relations I was introduced to was in the Player Services area. Vikki Hale gave us a tour and told us about the sign-in process for the player and the services offered to them. The professional golfers are offered complementary dining, laundry services, daycare, tickets to sports events, and 40 tickets for the Champion's Pavilion. During these two tours I was able to witness the importance of the player relations side of golf and how it creates an environment where the professional golfers are able to focus on their game.

  Later on, I had the incredible opportunity to sit-in on four press conferences with Rickie Fowler, Matt Jones, Patrick Reed, and Anirban Lahiri. These golfers were all different but they all shared the same amount of respect, determination, courtesy, and integrity while answering any questions. I realized that in order to be a professional golfer, one must portray the qualities that The First Tee encourages at all times. One of the most exciting things I encountered during the press conferences was when I was able to ask Rickie Fowler a question: "What do you do to prepare for your game mentally?". He replied by telling me how he plays a practice round and makes sure he isn't surprised about anything during the tournament. His simple yet profound advice is valid toward any golfer at any level. This will definitely impact my game positively and dramatically. 

We were also introduced to ShotLink which is a department with the individuals who manage all of the statistics and data for the PGA Tour. We entered the ShotLink truck to be greeted by Dallas Kirkendoll. He informed us on how ShotLink processes shots through help from volunteers and distance measuring lasers. This informed me on the crucial process that follows all the shots that players make. 

This experience was truly surreal. It opened my eyes to a whole new world behind the Shell Houston Open. I am very grateful to have been able to exprience something so extraordinary. I would like to thank The First Tee of Greater Houston, Brian Ladet, Melissa DeGrand, and many other people who helped create this insightful experience.