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First Tee youths hit the links

Seelig wins regional tournament after three playoff holes
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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James Seelig needed two putts to learn the break. He buried the third to win his first ever playoff. Seelig sank a nine-foot birdie putt on No. 18 to edge Preston Wtulich in a three-hole sudden death, claiming top honors at The First Tee of Greater Sacramento Jr. Tour tournament at Auburn Country Club Monday afternoon. Seelig and Wtulich both fired even par 72s in the 18-hole tournament to force the playoff. They played the par four 18th hole all three times in front of a gallery of two dozen peers and parents. Wtulich twice outdrove Seelig by 20 yards before chipping strong and barely missing long birdie putts. Seelig made par after conservative wedge shots on the first two holes. Seelig’s third drive looked destined for a pond on the right of the fairway, but the ball hooked back enough to land safely in the rough 40 yards from the pin. “I just hit it on the toe,” he said. “I didn’t know if it was going to come around. It almost went in the water.” Seelig followed with a solid 60-degree wedge that landed within 10 feet of the pin. Wtulich, a Jesuit High student and Rancho Murieta native, chipped strong again and his ball rolled onto the fringe of the green. He stroked a beautiful 15-foot putt that came up a few inches short of the cup, setting up Seelig’s winner. “I had the same putt basically all three times, so I knew the line,” the 16-year-old said. “I already knew the break before I even hit the putt.” Seelig, who lives and attends school in Houston, Texas, spends his summers at his father’s Lake Wildwood home in Penn Valley. He latched on with the First Tee program earlier this year. “I’ve always wanted to play tournaments but this is the year I finally got into it,” said Seelig, who was playing in only his third tournament with the program. “I love it. It’s a great environment to play in.” More than 100 youths ages 12 to 18 played through bee stings, rattlesnake encounters, difficult greens and a scorching sun. “We have several programs within First Tee but this is our top-end program,” said Angie Dixon, The First Tee of Greater Sacramento tournament director. “Basically, kids start out with us as 5-year-olds and start working their way through.” The Jr. Tour was launched with The First Tee of Greater Sacramento in 1997, the first chapter of the worldwide program. “As the kids get their golf skills to a level where they can play competitively, they move from the instructional programs we teach, like the golf camps, to the tournaments and teaching life skills.” Meeting and greeting, staying cool under pressure and goal-setting are among skills taught during 10-minute sessions before every tournament. “Not many things do that,” Seelig said. “They help with etiquette, manners, everything.” Six life skills are learned at each of four levels — bar, birdie, eagle and ace. “It takes about six months to a year to achieve each level,” Dixon said. “A lot of the kids who have worked their way through the program help as peers.” Newcastle sisters Cami and Bailey Furgeson are prime examples. “They’re two of our top life skills teachers, so they help teach at the tournaments,” Dixon said. “They help develop what the icebreakers are, what fun activities they’re going to do and how to teach the lessons.” Launched in 1997, the regional First Tee chapter includes more than 2,000 youth and is the first chapter of the worldwide program. “The thing that makes us unique is having this tour,” Dixon said. “There are only about 10 chapters worldwide that have a tour. The rest are focused on instruction. We keep the kids involved that are 12 to 18, because usually when they get to be 13 or 14 they don’t really want to go to golf camps and take golf lessons. Now they can play at a competitive level and stay involved all the way till college.” Cami Furgeson, who carded a 92 Monday, has remained active in the program through high school. She’ll continue her career next spring at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas on a full-ride scholarship. Her younger sister Bailey shot an 88 to place second among 23 girls behind Rachel Davis’ 84. Placer junior Ryan Holden fired an 82 in the boys 16-18 division, while Sydney Ryan shot a 95 in girls play. Loomis 17-year-olds Ryan Jue and Scott McKinney shot 86 and 89, respectively. Del Oro’s J.J. Tadlock carded an 81 while fellow Meadow Vista resident, 18-year-old Kyle Young, shot 91. Loomis 13-year-old Jahaan Nargussi, who has been involved with the program since age 6, shot a 6-over 78 to win the boys 12-12 division. “It’s one of my favorite programs,” said Nargussi, a student at Franklin Elementary School. “The lessons are good. The life skills are good for getting scholarships.” The regional chapter will host a championship at Sun City in Lincoln on Sept. 12, its final tournament of the summer leading up to an annual points championship in February.