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Dalton Gore, a rising junior at South Brunswick High School will fly on Aug. 23 to Monterey, Calif., to compete in the Wal-Mart First Tee Open, a Champions Tour event.
Each First Tee participant is teamed with one Champions Tour player and two amateurs in a 54-hole tournament played at the Pebble Beach Golf Links and the Del Monte Golf Course.
Practice rounds will be played Aug. 27-28. On Friday, Aug. 29, and Saturday, Aug. 30, the competition is at both courses. On Sunday, Aug. 30, everyone plays at Pebble Beach. The Golf Channel will broadcast the tournament on all three days of play.
To qualify, Gore first had to go through a screening process at The First Tee of Brunswick County that included interviews, essays and playing competition. After being chosen to represent the Brunswick County chapter, Gore then flew to Kansas State University on July 14-18 to compete against 90 participants for 52 boy’s slots in the Wal-Mart First Tee Open. First Tee girls had their own qualifier at Rye, N.H., on July 23-27.
“It was a lot of fun,” Gore said. “I met kids from all over the world. We were interviewed; we had dinner with executives from Wal-Mart and other sponsors of the tournament. We played a two-day tournament on Colbert Hills Golf Course.”
Colbert Hills is a par-72 course that plays at 7,022 yards from the men’s tees.
“The golf course was tough, with areas of wild grasses where your ball could disappear,” Gore said. “There were a lot of hills, which I wasn’t used to, since the courses around here are mostly flat. I still scored a 73 on the first day of competition.”
And it could have been better because Gore was 2-under going into the 16th hole on the first day, then faltered on the last three holes. Hole No. 16 was a disappointment because he reached the green on the 490- yard, par-5 hole in two shots but three-putted for a par.
On the next hole, a par 3 of 214 yards, Gore’s tee shot landed short left of the green. He chipped on and two-putted for a bogey. On the final hole, Gore pulled his drive left into tall grass and lost his ball. He had to tee it up again. He reached the green in four shots, then two-putted for a double bogey.
“I came in third on the first day and was pretty happy with my score,” he said. “The next day, we had high winds and rain. I took an unfortunate eight on the very first hole and shot an 84 for the round, but most of the scores were high that day, so I finished in the top 20. The best part was, I had 14 birdies over the two days of the tournament, and that made me really happy.”
Gore has been playing golf since he was a little boy.
“My grandfather, Ray Smith, gave me a 5-iron when I was a toddler and I whacked it all over the place,” he said. “I played baseball and was on a couple of all-star teams, but then I got serious about golf. I liked the challenge of it and figured I could use my baseball swing, move it lower and hit a golf ball.”
Gore spent hours playing golf at the old Ocean Isle Beach Golf Course (now closed) with his grandpa and more hours playing golf at the Oak Island Club and The Lakes County Club with his dad, Victor Gore. At the age of 7, Dalton could drive the ball 200 yards.
When The First Tee came to Brunswick County, both Dalton and his sister, Molly, joined.
Today, Dalton plays No. 1 on the South Brunswick High School golf team and is the captain. Molly plays on South’s girls team.
Dalton credits Gene Doane, his high school golf coach, with helping him become a better golfer.
“Coach Doane is a great guy,” Dalton said. “He treats all the kids equally and is there for everyone. This summer I’ve been helping him teach younger children at his golf camp at No More Mulligans Driving Range in Southport.”
Asked about Gore, Doane had praise.
“I’ve been coaching basketball and golf for 56 years,” he said, “and occasionally I come across a very special kid. These kids have an unbelievable dedication to their sport and they follow through with what they need to do. Dalton is one of those kids. He has a belief in himself and a big heart. I think he’ll do well.”
Gore’s First Tee coach, Walter Stachura, will be flying with Gore to California.
“Coach Walt has helped a lot, too,” Gore said. “When we get to Pebble Beach, he will be my caddie. We’re going to practice that whole caddie thing here before we go. My dad has to work and can’t make it to California, so it’s great that my First Tee coach can go with me.”
Stachura has been Gore’s First Tee coach for two years.
“I’ve seen Dalton mature as an individual in the past year,” Stachura said. “Qualifying for the Wal-Mart Open takes more than a good golf score. That’s only 30 percent of it. The rest is character and confidence and knowing the Core Values of The First Tee. I’m tickled that I can go along and be Dalton’s caddie.”
In the selection process, Dalton had to write an essay. Realizing that writing was not his strong point, he decided to assemble a “go-to-team” to help him learn to be a better writer. He also realized that getting better writing skills will help him get into college.
“My Eagle Coach, Coach Walt, introduced the ‘go-to-team’ concept during one of my classes,” Gore writes in his essay. “In order to successfully pass my writing test (one of the school’s standardized tests), I decided to assemble my own ‘go-to-team.’ My ‘go-to-team’ included Mrs. Birdyshaw, my English teacher, Mr. Bobby, a retired teacher, and my mom, a retired librarian.”
With the help of his team, Gore learned to be a better writer and wrote the essay that helped propel him toward Pebble Beach. He cites Mrs. Birdyshaw as the MVP of his team because she stayed after school to help him hone his writing skills.
Gore is excited to see whom he gets paired with at the Wal-Mart First Tee Open. He hopes it will be Fuzzy Zoeller because Gore’s dad once watched Fuzzy play in a tournament and has admired him ever since.
“Whoever I get paired with, I just want to do my best out there. I’m still amazed that I will be playing in Pebble Beach in a few weeks,” Gore said with a huge grin.
Believe it, Dalton. Enjoy every minute of it. With The First Tee core values of perseverance, sportsmanship and confidence, you can succeed.
ELSA BONSTEIN is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at email@example.com.