EA/Holland's Jake Roach is latest area First Tee golfer to earn spot in Pebble Beach event - The Buffalo News

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EA/Holland's Jake Roach is latest area First Tee golfer to earn spot in Pebble Beach event

East Aurora/Holland golfer Jake Roach's approach heading into tournaments is usually pretty simple.

He's in it to win it.

The usually sound strategy is being tweaked this week, but not because Roach is trying to shake out of a slump. He just doesn't want to miss a thing while teeing it up with some of the best golfers on the planet.

Roach is the latest First Tee of Western New York member to earn a chance to participate in what's regarded as the organization's signature event. He's in Monterey, Calif., where he begins play Friday in the Champions Tour PURE Insurance Championship Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. The tournament, which pairs a junior golfer from First Tee with a senior PGA Tour member, runs through Sunday.

Roach will be paired with 52-year-old Brandt Jobe, who won the Principal Charity Classic for his first Champions Tour win in June.

Eighty-one golfers from First Tee chapters throughout the country, regardless of gender, are selected to participate in the event annually by a panel of judges. Criteria include playing ability, comprehension of life skills and "core values learned" through involvement with First Tee. The goal of First Tee, per the mission statement on its website, is to "help shape the lives of young people from all walks of life by reinforcing values like integrity, respect and perseverance through the game of golf."

Roach made the cut and in exchange now has the chance to not only learn from the best but return with memories and stories to share with others.

Among the Senior PGA stars who have won at least one major during their careers expected to participate in the tournament include Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Bernhard Langer, Mark O'Meara, Lee Janzen and Nick Faldo.

"The whole opportunity will be great," said Roach via phone Tuesday while en route to the Pebble Beach course with his father. "It's living the life of a PGA Tour pro without being one, kind of like seeing what I want to do in the future."

"The PURE Insurance Championship is considered a premier national event for the First Tee," said Patty Jordan-Smith, director of coaching and program design for First Tee of Western New York. "The average participant handicap is 3.3. Jake is one of only a handful of males chosen for the northeast section."

Roach is one of just two junior golfers from New York State picked for the event (the other is from New York City), but he's not the only Western New Yorker to have ever earned the honor. Others who have participated with Champions Tour members at Pebble Beach in recent years include Greg Sibick, current Niagara University golfer Marissa Del Monaco, Erich Spitz, Patrick Fahey and Cory Cullen.

"Considering how hard it is to get into that and where we're located, for the size of our chapter to have this number of participants chosen for this field is really quite remarkable," said Jordan-Smith, noting that most of the juniors selected come from First Tee chapters in states with climates for year-round outdoor play.  "It's an exciting week for him."

Roach, who will miss only one scholastic match while at the tournament, has had quite the four-month stretch.

He placed fourth at the Section VI tournament last spring, earning a berth into the state tournament. Roach, a junior who averages 38.5 for nine holes, also participated in a College Prep Academy – one of just 24 golfers selected from First Tee chapters throughout the country – during the summer.

"It's a little less focused on winning and more on the experience," Roach said. "No matter who I'm paired with, I'll be playing with a previous PGA player, a great player. I think it'll be cool to learn from them and how they've gotten to where they are. … A lot people think they're old and lost their skill but they've had more long-term success and experience" in the game than younger golfers.

It's the perfect classroom for a lad who hopes to someday play the sport at the college level.

"One of the things that makes this event so special is the relationship the players forge with their Champions Tour player/partner," said Jordan-Smith, the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Famer who won the LPGA's Ocean State Open in 1988 during her pro career.

"This is one of the Champions Tour players' favorite events of the year partly because it's played on the prestigious Pebble Beach but primarily because of their interactions with these amazing First Tee players," she said. "The senior pros often share their cell numbers and text long beyond the event it over. … Jake will be walking the fairways with someone who could well become a life mentor."

Roach is not the only First Tee of Western New York member to earn a chance to participate in the organization's events at the national level this year. Sacred Heart's Gia Bolognese is one of 28 picked to attend an Outstanding Participant Leadership Summit from Nov. 8-12 in Orlando, Fla.

Meanwhile, Ben Spitz of Orchard Park attended the First Tee Life Skills and Leadership Academy over the summer in East Lansing, Mich.

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