It’s like a high school kid getting to race a car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or pitch a game at Yankee Stadium.
Columbus senior Francisco de la Torre has been selected to compete with pro golfers on the Champions Tour at Pebble Beach on the weekend of Sept. 26.
Hugging the rugged coastline and offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, Pebble Beach is regarded as one of the most scenic golf courses in the world.
But there’s more to it than that.
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“It’s one of those courses that every golfer dreams about playing,” de la Torre said. “It seems like every big name in golf has had a dramatic moment there. When I play that course, I will feel like one of them, I guess.”
De la Torre, who will travel to California for the event with his parents and younger brother, said he has a lot of emotions when he contemplates what he is about to encounter.
“I’m so excited,” he said. “I went to Pebble Beach once to visit, and I told myself that I would do anything I could to play there.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m already feeling the nerves now. I can’t imagine how I will feel when I get to the first tee at Pebble.”
De la Torre won the opportunity to play at the event — which is called the Nature Valley First Tee Open — because of his academic success (a 5.1 GPA as a junior), his golf skill and his substantial community service, which has centered around his effort to save American family farms from extinction.
A national panel of judges sorted through hundreds of applicants to select 80 high school kids to pair up with professionals in a pro-am format the Pebble Beach event, which is televised internationally by The Golf Channel.
De La Torre is the only golfer from Miami-Dade and Broward counties selected this year, although others have made it in the past, including Melissa Edmonson, who recently graduated from the University of Virginia.
Edmonson, who played high school golf at Coral Reef and Westminster Christian, called her experience at Pebble Beach “the best week of my life.”
She played with one of the biggest names in golf history, Greg Norman, whom she still keeps in touch with, and she remembers getting putting lessons from Gary Player, who preached to her the importance of staying fit.
“The scenery at Pebble is absolutely stunning,” said Edmonson, 22, who majored in political science and media studies. “You are right on the ocean, and the course was immaculate.
“But at the end of the day, the biggest thing I took away was the people I met and the connections I made.”
Edmonson doesn’t remember what place she finished, but she recalls her birdie on the famed seventh hole, and she can still picture the high-five Norman gave her to celebrate.
Plus, she has the DVD to prove it.
As for advice for de la Torre, Edmonson said the Columbus senior should talk to as many people as he can.
“I remember asking: ‘How do you deal with nerves?’ And, ‘Can you help me with my chipping?’ ” Edmonson said. “When I got home, I wrote about 50 thank-you letters, and I got a lot of responses.”
De la Torre, who wants to study business and finance, said he is looking forward to having his own conversations with the pros.
“These are people who do what you love to do, and they do it professionally,” de la Torre said. “They have also been through life — a lot of them have their own businesses. I’m excited to learn from them.”
De la Torre, who is Columbus’ third-ranked golfer and helped his team finish eighth at state last year, said he realizes that a lot of people would love to be in his golf shoes on Sept. 26.
“All the [Columbus] football players say they wish they could miss a week of school to go play Pebble,” de la Torre said with a laugh. “And a few of my teachers have offered to come along as my caddie.”
District playoffsOct. 14-15
Regional playoffsOct. 20-22
State playoffs (girls)Oct. 28-29
State playoffs (boys)Nov. 4-5
2013 BOYS’ STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 3ABradenton Lakewood Ranch
Class 2APonte Vedra
Class 1ALake Mary Prep
2013 GIRLS’ STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 3ACypress Bay
Class 2APlantation American Heritage
Class 1AWinter Park Circle Christian
BOYS’ TEAM CAPSULES
AMERICAN: Coach: Paul Torres; Last year: NA; Top golfer: Gustavo Hernandez (So.).
BELEN: Coach: Mario Avello; Last year: Fourth in district; Top golfers: Armando Marquez (Sr.); Andrew Cecol (Jr.); Leo Herrera (7th grade); Noteworthy: Marquez is a 4.0 student and the team captain.
COLUMBUS: Coach: Mike Marinelli; Last year: Eighth at state in Class 3A; Top golfers: Julio Betancourt (Sr.); Rafa Martinez (Jr.); Francisco de la Torre (Sr.); Noteworthy: Betancourt was a regional individual champ last year, and Martinez won the Youth Fair.
CORAL REEF: Coach: Ray Lanway; Last year: NA; Top golfers: Connor Creighton (Sr.); Alex Hartnett (Sr.); Tyler Thompson (So.); Noteworthy: Creighton finished second in the GMAC last year.
GULLIVER: Coach: Steve Solomon; Last year: Fifth at regionals; Top golfers: Christian Nido (So.); Trevor Pellitieri (Jr.); Vic Bruzos (Sr.); Noteworthy: Four Gulliver golfers, including junior Scott Martinez, have prior varsity experience.
MIAMI COUNTRY DAY: Coach: Bryan Parizo; Last year: Sixth at regionals: Top golfers: Spencer Berens (Sr.); Lorenzo Figueroa (Sr.); Griffin Steutel (7th grade); Noteworthy: Four golfers return from a team that was second at districts.
MOURNING: Coach: P.J. Flaherty; Last year: Eighth at districts; Top golfers: J.T. Yao (So.); Nick Russo (So.); Paulo Pulte (So.) Noteworthy: Their top five golfers are sophomores.
PALMER: Coach: Jeffrey Rose; Last year: Fifth at regionals: Top golfers: Jackson Fox (Sr.); Jack Fumagalli (Jr.); Mike Gravier (Jr.); Noteworthy: Their top four golfers return, including district champ Fox.
PALMETTO: Coach: Jayson Malkin; Last year: Fourth at regionals: Top golfers: D.J. Burnham (Sr.); Daniel Hasty (Sr.); Gareth Williams (Jr.); Noteworthy: Burnham and Hasty will lead the way.
RANSOM: Coach: David Ragan III; Last year: Third at regionals: Top golfers: Daniel Tannenbaum (Sr.); Jake Beber-Frankel (7th grade); Patrick McGrath (Sr.); Noteworthy: They return five of their top six golfers, including Beber-Frankel, who is nationally ranked for his age group.
REAGAN: Coach: Kevin Whelan; Last year: Fifth at districts; Top golfers: Bryson Harris (Fr.); Juan Restrepo (Sr.); Noteworthy: Reagan lacks experience — no one on the team played high school golf last year.
WESTMINSTER CHRISTIAN: Coach: Steve Blaum; Last year: Second at districts; Top golfers: J.P. Mehu (8th grade); Antonio Cruz (Fr.); Trei Cruz (So.); Noteworthy: Blaum says the team lacks depth.
GIRLS’ TEAM CAPSULES
AMERICAN: Coach: Paul Torres; Last year: NA; Top golfers: Taylor Robinson (Sr.); Kiyah Martin (Jr.); Tyra Robinson (Fr.).
CARROLLTON: Coach: Armando Echeverria; Last year: Second at regionals; Top golfers: Tanya Eathakotti (fr.); Gabriela Delgado (Jr.); Charlotte Stott (Jr.); Noteworthy: Four of their top five golfers return, including Eathakotti, who is already a three-time first-team All-Dade standout.
CORAL REEF: Coach: Ray Lanway; Last year: NA; Top golfers: Lauren Eustace (Jr.); Abigail Chan-Onn (So.); Krystal Farinas (Sr.); Noteworthy: Eustace is the reigning GMAC champ and a first-team All-Dade golfer.
GULLIVER: Coach: Jeremy P. Sale; Last year: 2-6; Top golfers: Ruby Willie (Sr.); Olivia Lundeen (Jr.); Shanna Leventhal (Sr.); Noteworthy: Three of their top golfers return.
MIAMI COUNTRY DAY: Coach: Bryan Parizo; Last year; NA; Top golfers: Megan Tate (Sr.); Mina Segall (So.); Sabrina Cabarcos (7th grade); Noteworthy: This is the first time MCD has had a girls’ golf program since 1984.
PALMETTO: Coach: Rosanna Karpiak; Last year: District runner-up; Top golfers: Alexa Rivas (fr.); Sarah Berlan (So.); Natalia Hazday (So.); Noteworthy: The team is made up of five freshmen and two sophomores.
RANSOM: Coach: Julie Carse; Last year: 8th at state in Class 1A; Top golfers: Carolina Garrett (Sr.); Chloe Horton (Sr.); Katie Hanley (Sr.); Phoebe Beber-Frankel (7th grade); Noteworthy: Those four golfers made it to state last year.
REAGAN: Coach: Lilimar Villa; Last year: NA; Top golfers: Claudia Pareja (Jr.).