First Tee of Atlanta participant wins trip to Wells Fargo Championship
May 1, 2014
By Doug Milne, PGA TOUR Staff
CHARLOTTE- She outdrove Rory McIlroy more than once during Wednesday’s Wells Fargo Championship Pro-Am, signed nearly as many autographs and drew twice the media attention of the tournament’s 2010 champion. There was that, as well as impending eighth-grade exams, for Alpharetta, Ga. 14-year-old Alejandra Ayala.
Ayala struggled right out of the gate in the pro-am, cold-topping her first tee shot. Unshaken, she bounced back and finished strong. After all, overcoming adversity and learning along the way is the very moxie which got her to the first tee Wednesday. A strong finish, she knows, is everything.
Ayala earned her spot in Wednesday’s pro-am field by virtue of winning the 2014 Wells Fargo “Succeeding Together” contest in partnership with The First Tee. Teenage participants of The First Tee submitted video essays, acknowledging a mentor or coach in their lives. This year’s theme worked in conjunction with Wells Fargo’s commitment to the value of relationships and the positive outcomes that result from working together.
Unable to choose just one individual, Ayala celebrated the importance of multiple folks who’ve helped shape and grow her into the young lady she is today. Based on The First Tee’s Core Values, her video touched on the significance of The First Tee of Atlanta’s Executive Director Vanessa Hawkins, Camilo Villegas, who she watched win the 2008 TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, as well as her family.
After a panel of judges reviewed all the submissions, Ayala’s was awarded top honors. As a result, she not only got the opportunity to play in the Wells Fargo Championship Pro-Am, but got to pick her pro.
“I was so excited when I got the news that I had won,” Alejandra said. “My first thought when I knew I got to pick my pro was ‘RORY!’”
And her mission stayed the course.
“On the first tee, I was a bit overwhelmed,” she admitted. “People were actually asking me to sign my autograph…and then Rory came walking up. That made me really nervous. But after a few holes, my confidence was back and from then on, it was all good.”
Members of The First Tee program are typically individuals with odds stacked against them in their pursuit of golf. Before The First Tee, access to the game was a far reach for these kids and their families. A means to overcoming that adversity, Alejandra and her family remained focused on the finish. With such Core Values as Honesty, Integrity, Respect and - perhaps most significant of all, Confidence, - serving as building blocks, Wednesday’s involvement in the pro-am for Alejandra was more than just a finish. It was a whole new beginning.
“It was so great, so wonderful. I felt like someone needed to pinch me, because it didn’t seem real,” said Alejandra’s mother, Yehymmy. “She has been working so hard and has been so committed to her game. This is something that will not only keep her motivated, but will strengthen her focus and make her stronger in her game.”
Stronger, indeed. Most people, regardless of age or skill level, would wilt over a nerve-induced, mishit on the first tee in front of one of the world’s greatest players. Not Alejandra. Almost as if it were part of the plan, she powered on.
“I was really nervous at first, but I was actually glad for it,” Alejandra said. “I settled down and that gave me confidence. So, now I know what it’s like to play.”
“It was great. I had a lot of fun out there,” said Rory McIlroy. “Alejandra is a really nice player. She hits it a really long way for a 14-year-old. I think she was a little nervous for the first few holes, but she got into her stride and brought it home. It was really fun to be out there with her today.”
“The First Tee was her first experience with the game of golf,” said Yehymmy. “She has been with them for five years now. The First Tee teaches so much more than golf. They teach the Core Values and all the things needed for a good foundation as a person.”
After her first tee shot jitters, Alejandra seemed to belong on the course. As she signed autographs, she seemed as though she’d does it daily. And, as she stood in front of countless cameras for media opportunities, she did so as if she’d done it before. There’s the confidence. There’s the indication she’ll be doing a lot of all that again and again.
“This is the rewarding part of the job for us. It really validates the work we do with the First Tee,” said Nick Carey, Wells Fargo Vice President, Sponsorships. “We spent time talking with Alejandra, talking about the day. But really, the most compelling thing was hearing from her parents and coach…those who witnessed what she did on the course. That really furthers the mission of the First Tee and empowering women like Alejandra to be positive in their choices.”
“Wells Fargo has been so wonderful for doing this,” Yehymmy added. “They have been treating us so wonderfully. We are so happy as a family to have this experience, thanks to Wells Fargo. But, more than anyone, she is so happy. All of her efforts and hard work have paid off.”
Hopefully, mom will say the same thing after her 14-year-old daughter’s exams. But, as a proven closer, Alejandra is anything but likely to disappoint.
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