Marissa Del Monaco celebrated her 17th birthday Tuesday in one of the best places possible for a golfer.
The Little Valley native was in Pebble Beach, Calif., at the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links. Del Monaco will be there all week as she participates in the 2015 Nature Valley First Tee Open, which begins Friday.
An official Champions Tour event, the 12th annual tournament pairs 81 players from the PGA Tour’s 50-and-over circuit with 81 junior golfers from across the country as a showcase for The First Tee.
Del Monaco, a senior at Cattaraugus-Little Valley, was chosen to represent The First Tee of Western New York. She is the first female to do so.
“It’s definitely made me more of a confident leader and person,” Del Monaco said of The First Tee, which she has participated in since 2011. “I’m not the most outgoing person. I’m kind of shy, and it definitely made me open up and I’ve met a lot more people. It’s definitely changed my life.”
Nationally, The First Tee is a nonprofit organization that seeks to provide youth leadership and developmental programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through golf.
At the local level, that takes place through events like introductory classes for children at the Paddock Chevrolet Golf Dome, as well as several other events held throughout the region during the golf season.
Del Monaco, who will attend Niagara University next year, was selected by a national panel of judges who evaluated participants’ playing ability and comprehension of the core values and character education of The First Tee.
She arrived at Pebble Beach on Monday.
“It was definitely a rush,” she said of seeing the course for the first time. “You look out at the ocean and it’s like … ‘wow, we’re really here.’ ”
Wednesday night, Del Monaco learned she’ll be paired with Champions Tour pro Fred Funk. They will tee off at 1:24 p.m. Pacific time Friday in their first round at Poppy Hills Golf Course, then play the second round at Pebble Beach, teeing off Saturday at 8:54 a.m.
Del Monaco, a 6-handicap, has previous experience representing the local First Tee chapter at The First Tee of Cleveland Invitational Tournament, in which she finished third, and The First Tee’s national life skills and leadership academy in San Diego.
“Marissa is one of our Western New York chapter stars,” said LPGA member Patty Jordan-Smith, one of Del Monaco’s coaches. “We’re so proud of her success in the program and inclusion in this once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Del Monaco, who started golfing at age 5 with her father, Mario, has gotten so involved with the First Tee program, she’s a certified assistant coach. She often extends her weekly lessons in the summer to assist Jordan-Smith in instructing younger players.
Del Monaco, who says driving and putting are the strengths of her game, knows stepping to the first tee Friday will be unlike anything she’s ever experienced. Her dad’s advice was simple.
“Just don’t drop the ball on the first tee,” she said with a laugh. “I’m going to try not to, but my hand is going to be shaking so bad. … It’s going to be crazy when they announce my name and say, from the ‘First Tee of Western New York, Marissa Del Monaco.’ ”
• The team of Kim Kaul (Gowanda Country Club) and 18-year-old Victoria Parker (Orchard Park Country Club) recently qualified for the second United States Golf Association Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship. Kaul and Parker shot a 1-under 72 at the Village Club at Lake Success in Great Neck on Long Island, good for a three-shot victory that qualified them for the national tournament, which will be held in May at the Streamsong Resort in Florida.
• Holland’s Andrew LaCongo recently became one of 80 junior golfers to earn an invitation to the third annual Drive, Chip and Putt Championship national finals, which will be held at Augusta National Golf Club prior to the start of the 2016 Masters Tournament.
A joint initiative of the USGA, Masters and PGA of America, Drive, Chip and Putt is a nationwide golf development program open to boys and girls ages 7 to 15 in four different age categories.
LaCongo, who qualified in the boys’ 14-15 age bracket, went through local and sub-regional qualifying before winning one of the 10 regional qualifiers that took place earlier this month. LaCongo totaled 135 points to win the regional at Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh, site of next year’s U.S. Open.
• The Buffalo District Golf Association recently conducted its team championship at Hickory Stick in Lewiston. The Wanakah Country Club team of Max Davis, Steve Demeo, Sean Lindstrom, Jamie Miller and Patrick Nealon earned the victory with a total of 303 (low four scores of five, in a scratch, stroke-play format). The Brighton team of Jim Bartkowski, John Corrigan, Frank Garcia Jr., Dan Giliforte and Jeff Ventura finished second at 321.
Nealon was the individual medalist after shooting even-par 72.
The BDGA will host the Southern Tier Classic at Bartlett Country Club in Olean on Oct. 3. The 1 p.m. shotgun start will have both scratch and handicap divisions. The $70 entry fee includes golf, cart, food after the round and prizes.
• This is the final golf column of the 2015 season. The Buffalo News will continue to cover and accept local golf news at the email address below.