By Michael Beaven
Beacon Journal sports writer
Sergio Garcia flashed a smile as he swung his driver Tuesday on Firestone Country Club’s driving range during an informal question-and-answer session with children and their families.
Just as Garcia met the ball with his club, a man asked: ‘What is your favorite club?’
Garcia said: “I like this one I have in my hands.”
He laughed and then talked about why the driver is his favorite as he prepares for the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational on the South Course this weekend.
Garcia practiced Tuesday and spent 30 minutes talking to children, ages 8-18, who are enrolled in First Tee chapters in Akron, Canton and Cleveland. Garcia chatted about several topics, including life, golf, soccer, family and friends.
“It is kind of like the carrot dangling in front of the horse, because this is where I want to be,” said Patrick Schultz, a 2013 Firestone High School graduate who will be a freshman golfer at Malone University next month.
“This is my ultimate goal. I want to be out here playing with these guys. Coming out here and seeing the way they are treated, the way that they play and the way that they carry themselves is enticing. It is nice to enjoy the atmosphere and get to see it firsthand. Getting to walk around and talking with Sergio is amazing.”
Schultz and his brother, Firestone sophomore Brian Schultz, were among a crowd of about 50 youngsters who were joined by parents and siblings who listened to Garcia.
Garcia emphasized the importance of practicing, and said he plays about six days a week.
“I’ll practice around two-and-a-half to three hours in the morning, and work on my drives at the range and chip and putt,” Garcia said. “I’ll practice another two-and-a-half to three hours in the afternoon and get out and play on a course.”
Garcia, an eight-time PGA Tour winner, pledged his support to The First Tee chapters in communities in which he competes through the remainder of the 2013 FedExCup season. He will donate $1,000 for every birdie and $2,000 for each eagle, during the Bridgestone, PGA Championship, Wyndham Championship, The Barclays, Deutsche Bank Championship, BMW Championship and Tour Championship.
“I am very excited to be able to help support The First Tee and the good work it does in teaching youth the great life skills that are a part of our sport,” Garcia said.
Garcia also talked about his passion for playing soccer. He said Real Madrid is his “favorite futbol team,” and he also enjoys watching Barcelona and Manchester United.
“Golf and soccer, they’re both great sports,” Garcia said. “The game of golf is really good because you travel a lot, you get to know a lot of people and you get to experience different cultures and countries. It is one of the sports that helps you grow up the most.”
Patrick Schultz said this will be his sixth year as a standard bearer, and Brian Schultz is entering his third year. Both have fond memories of walking around and interacting with players such as Greg Norman, Padraig Harrington and Chad Campbell during practice rounds. Patrick said he patterns his game after Arnold Palmer and Bubba Watson. Brian said his favorite players are Jack Nicklaus, Rory McIlroy and Garcia.
“It is always nice to just watch and follow the golfers around,” Brian Schultz said. “You get to look at their swings, you get to see ‘Wow, I can make my swing look like that. I can be this person. All it takes is practice and a lot of hard work.’ It is my goal, just like Patrick, to play college and pro.”
Ryan Maxwell, 28, serves as the Golf and Life Skills coach at the First Tee of Akron and helped chaperone the kids.
“The kids get a chance to play in a tournament [on the Firestone public course],” said Maxwell, a graduate of Walsh Jesuit and Kent State University. “Some of the kids got to play in a tournament event for the first time.”
A field of 73
The field for the no-cut event stands at 73, with $1.5 million of the $8.75 million purse going to the winner.
Louis Oosthuizen pulled out of the tournament and announced he is taking two months off while he deals with hip, neck and back injuries.
International Presidents Cup Team Captain Nick Price said Oosthuizen has a hip flexor.
Oosthuizen receives last-place money of $40,500, which he will donate to charity. Jordan Spieth, Peter Senior and Hunter Mahan are also eligible for Bridgestone, but are sitting out.
30 years later
Price chatted Tuesday about his victory at Firestone in 1983 at the World Series of Golf when he was awarded $100,000.
“Someone reminded me of that on that practice tee,” Price said. “And then I walked through the clubhouse, through the locker room, and there’s a couple of pictures of me, and I had to do a double take.
“In 1983 when I won here, what was so significant was the fact it was on the heels of basically throwing the British Open away in 1982, where I played the last six holes rather poorly. So to come here on this stage, and if you have a look at who I beat in that last round, it was [Jack] Nicklaus, [Ray] Floyd, [Isao] Aoki, Hale Irwin, the real powerhouses of golf in the early ’80s and late ’70s. So, as a 26-year-old, it was quite intimidating to say the least. But it launched my career, started my career here in the U.S.”
Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson held separate news conferences Tuesday.
Bradley, the defending champion, said he flashed back to last year upon arrival.
“One of the cool things about winning a tournament is you go in the locker room and everyone is gone so you’re by yourself and you get to hang out with the locker room guys,” Bradley said. “You have a lot of really fun memories outside of golf, like remembering walking out with the trophy or seeing the people and them being so happy that I’m back here.”
McIlroy, Brandt Snedeker, Justin Rose and Tiger Woods are scheduled to talk with the media today. Nicklaus, who was selected as the Ambassador of Golf, is also going to hold a news conference today with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.