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On July 30, Kelly Tilghman and Charlie Rymer, broadcasters for the Golf Channel and hosts of “Morning Drive,” made a surprise visit to the North Carolina Life Skills and Leadership Academy at Cinghiale Creek, home of The First Tee of Brunswick County.
The two well-known golf personalities were in the area for the inaugural fund raising tournament for The First Tee of the Grand Strand Charity Tournament on July 31 at the Caledonia Golf and Fish Club in Pawleys Island, S.C. On Tuesday evening, the pair attended a dinner at the Dunes Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Gene Weldon, a longtime friend of Tilghman and Rymer, helped make it all happen to the great delight of the 50 participants of The First Tee of the East Region who were attending the leadership academy last week. These chapters were represented: First Tee of Metropolitan New York, First Tee of Jacksonville, Fla.; First Tee of Atlanta; First Tee of Charlotte; First Tee of Roanoke, Va.; First Tee of Knoxville, Tenn.; First Tee of Triad; First Tee of Sandhills; First Tee of Grand Strand and First Tee Brunswick County.
“I grew up just 20 miles south of here in North Myrtle Beach,” Tilghman said to a room packed with participants of The First Tee, chaperones, coaches, college interns and members of the board of directors. “I started playing golf when I was 13 years old, mostly with boys because not many girls played golf back then. Gene Weldon was the pro at Gator Hole back then and he was my first golf teacher.”
Weldon now is the director of golf at the Thistle Golf Club.
Charlie Rymer was a teen playing golf on the Grand Strand at about the same time. Rymer and Tilghman often played in the same tournaments and got to know each other.
“I would go to Gator Hole and try to impress the girls by trying to hit the ball over the fence at the far side of the range. I never did put one over that fence,” he said.
The pair bantered back and forth as they spoke with the young people, telling insider stories about their early days as touring pros and later, as broadcasters. Tilghman attended Duke University where she played on the women’s golf team. Rymer went to Georgia State and played on it men’s golf team. Both played as pros for several years before getting into broadcasting.
“I shot a 61 at the Byron Nelson Classic one year,” Rymer said. “I was nervous, all sweaty, playing with Davis Love, II. The next day I was paired with Phil Mickelson. That made me even more nervous and sweaty.”
“I didn’t win, but the highlight of the tournament was when Byron Nelson himself greeted all the golfers, shaking their hands and thanking them for playing. He looked at me and said, ‘You the one who shot a 61? It’s refreshing to see someone shoot a 61. I never shot a 61.’ The hall of famer paused, then added, ‘I shot a few 60s but never a 61.’ Mr. Nelson was not just a great golfer, but he had a great sense of humor.”
Tilghman told stories of her early years as an amateur golfer.
“Since I played mostly with guys when I was a teenager, I spent my early years looking for ladies’ rooms.”
Tilghman originally intended to be a LPGA touring pro but got into broadcasting instead.
“I liked golf, but I didn’t have the passion for it,” she said. “When I got into broadcasting, everything came together and it felt right. I started in the library at Golf Channel, learned as much as I could, worked very hard and moved up and up.”
“Golf and perseverance (one of the core values of The First Tee) can change your life. Get the knowledge, then just be yourself,” she said. “Keep your head up and meet people. If you meet rejection, as I did many times, just wait your turn and keep going. Find a mentor, then when you become successful, be a mentor and give back to the community.”
Both broadcasters talked about their daily schedules and stressed the importance of not just being on time, but being early.
“I get up every morning at 4 a.m. The crew of ‘Morning Drive’ has a meeting at 5 a.m. to talk about the show and outline what we’re doing. At 6:15, we have a rehearsal and at 7 the red light goes on and we’re live,” Tilghman said.
Rymer agreed. “No one asks you to be early, but if you’re not early, you’re late,” he said. “Be prepared, be early and you’ll get ahead.”
Tilghman had a special message to the young women at the leadership academy.
“Don’t get caught up in the glamour thing. It’s superficial. Beauty emanates from inside. All that stuff about clothes and make-up and figure, it’s all fake. Obtain knowledge. That will give you the power to succeed.”
Rymer told the story of Tiger Woods when he was just starting out as a pro golfer.
“Tiger had won the U.S. Junior Amateur three times and became the youngest player to win the U.S. Amateur. He spent all his spare time in the library looking at old golf videos of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and all the great golfers that played in the U.S. Open and the British Open. He knew those courses before he ever played them.”
Both Tilghman and Rymer were presented framed copies of The First Tee Core Value of confidence, which had Arnold Palmer’s picture on it.
“Golf Channel was a tiny company starting out when they asked Arnold Palmer for $10 million,” Tilghman said. “He said he would let them use his name, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to invest that much money. He changed his mind and came up with the cash and now the little channel that started in 100,000 homes is a world- wide enterprise that reaches 140 million people.
“Golf is the bread of my life. Everything I know and have accomplished is through the game of golf. All of it has come together for me because of golf. This great game can make the world a better place. I see it happening in The First Tee.”
Rymer added, “Kelly has become the face of the Golf Channel through a lot of hard work and talent. She is a pioneer for women in golf and in broadcasting and she makes it all look easy.”
“We were broadcasting at a major tournament. Golf Channel was doing the pre-tournament show and the post tournament wrap-up. CBS was doing the live broadcast. There was a rain delay and someone from CBS came running over to us and asked if Kelly could fill in live for the next hour because Jim Nance had a plane to catch. She went right over, took Nance’s place, then came back and finished our show. She’s a real professional.”
I watched Kelly and Charlie interacting with the young participants of the leadership academy. They were gracious and patient. They answered every question, autographed pictures and stood for countless photographs (everyone had cellphones out).
I spoke with Weldon at the end of their visit. “Sixty kids just had a very special day here because of two very special people,” he said.
On July 31, the broadcast of “Morning Drive” included an interview with Rebecca Albin, the executive director of The First Tee of Brunswick County and The First Tee of the Grand Strand, and Ashley Sloup, a participant of The First Tee of Brunswick County who will be representing her chapter in the Nature Valley Pebble Beach Open Sept. 23-29). To see a video of the interview, go to www.GolfChannel.com and search for The First Tee: Rebecca Albin and Ashley Sloup.
Golf Gab groaner
The old golfer turned to his wife and said, “You know what? You have been with me through the bad times. When I got fired, you were there to support me. When my business failed, you were there. When I got shot, you were by my side. When we lost the house, you stayed right here. When my health started failing, you were still by my side … You know what, Martha?”
“What, dear,” she asked smiling, her heart filled with warmth.
“I’m beginning to think you’re bad luck.”
(Submitted by Dale Calhoon.)
Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at facebook.com/elsa.bonstein.