Perseverance is one of the First Tee of Akron’s nine core values.
It has helped not only to improve his game, Ellet High golfer Ben Cockerham said, but also his approach to other tasks whenever he feels he is struggling.
“First Tee has definitely formed the young man that I’ve become today. The core values it teaches, you can test on and off the golf course every day,” Cockerham said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without the program.”
As a reward for what he has learned in First Tee since he was a child, Cockerham was chosen as Ohio’s only representative in this month’s 10th Nature Valley First Tee Open at famed Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.
The event, hosted by the Monterey Peninsula Foundation charity, will be held Sept. 27-29 and televised on the Golf Channel.
A panel of judges selected 81 young men and women, ages 14 to 18, from 54 First Tee chapters throughout the nation.
They will be paired with 81 senior players from the PGA’s Champions Tour, along with 162 amateurs, in a three-round competition for the First Tee Open pro-junior championship.
Cockerham, 17, is entering his senior year at Ellet with his golf handicap at about 3, he said, and is the second member of his family chosen to play in the event.
His 22-year-old brother, Jeffrey, now a junior at Walsh University in North Canton and also a First Tee Akron graduate, played at Pebble Beach three years ago. He was paired with Tom Watson and John Cook for Sunday’s final round.
Vincent King, the local First Tee program’s executive director, said he can remember Ben tagging along with his older brother at the city-owned home course, Mud Run, since he was 5 or 6.
“It seems like we’ve always had a little Cockerham running around out there,” King said.
Jeff Cockerham and his wife, Kim, who completed the Ironman Lake Placid triathlon July 31, are such strong supporters of the program, they also have three younger ones involved: Ty, the youngest at 9; Allie, 13; and Nicholas, 15.
“First Tee is probably the best organization that we’ve been involved in,” Jeff Cockerham said. “The fundamentals that they’ve learned in the game, and how they and all the other players carry themselves off the course by what they’ve learned, is just remarkable.”
Ben said his application for Pebble Beach was not strictly about golf. He said he had to complete an online survey, write five essays on different topics and submit a player resume describing his school studies, achievements and extracurricular activities.
“It’s pretty intense,” King said.
It also promises to be a thrill of a lifetime. Clint Eastwood is chairman of the event, and Arnold Palmer, a national First Tee trustee, is an honorary co-chairman.
Plus, Ben has never been to California.
“I’m so excited to play. I can’t wait,” Ben said. “To play such a high-caliber course, where the U.S. Open was held and other major championships, I can’t wait to see, and can’t wait to be doing it.”
And if he struggles?
Ben said the First Tee core value of perseverance already has helped him immensely.
“Any time my game’s getting rough and I’m struggling,” he said, “I look to my core values to keep my head in it and keep practicing. And I know I can go to the First Tee for anything.
“The coaches, the volunteers, Mr. King — they’ll help me with whatever I need, whether it’s just a little push or pat on the back. They’re always there to help.”
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or email@example.com.