Hoadley Brings Home California Dream
Commentary on this story on Tuesday's Headlines Podcast .
Robert Hoadley had quite the Labor Day weekend.
The 15-year-old sophomore at Union Pines spent the week in California where he played a little golf with Larry Nelson at Pebble Beach, got some face time on national television and collected a memory that will last a lifetime.
Hoadley, for the third consecutive year, participated in the Champions Tour Wal-Mart First Tee Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, and for the third consecutive year his playing partner was Nelson, a veteran golfer who will be inducted into the Golf Hall of Fame this October.
Hoadley, a charter member of The First Tee of the Sandhills program and one of its brightest lights, earned the right to play in the tournament by going through a selection process run by the national First Tee program. He emerged from the process held in Manhattan, Kan., in July with his ticket to the tournament punched for the third year in a row.
"I've played all three years with Larry Nelson," Hoadley said Tuesday. "I requested Mr. Nelson for my playing partner. I said if I'm going to make the cut, it will be with him. He is by far one of the nicest guys I've ever met. He could have easily said he didn't want to play with me. I just can't say enough about him."
The first two years, the partners failed to make the cut, including last year when they fell short by one shot. This year, the two put up an 11-under better ball of pair in the first two rounds of the pro-am accompanying the tournament, making the cut by one stroke.
A strong first round at Del Monte, a course that was also being used in the tournament, had the pair at 7-under after one day of play.
"It's a different course than Pebble Beach," Hoadley said. "The greens were less receptive. It was a tough course."
The highlight of the first day for Hoadley came on the 17th hole where he happened to top Nelson's birdie with an eagle. The two were tied for 13th as they headed over to Pebble Beach for Saturday's second round, the day the cut was to be made. The pair shot 5-under on the course that Hoadley said was "gorgeous."
Hoadley said he missed out on a couple of birdie opportunities, but the 12-under two-day total made the cut by one stroke. Hoadley noted that last year the cut was also 11, but he liked the way this year turned out a lot better. And as for those birdies he missed on Saturday, he would have a different story to tell about Sunday's round.
They teed off at 8:05 a.m. in the morning, and Hoadley said he got off to a shaky start.
"It was mainly nerves," he said. "There were more people watching. It was just a more intense kind of environment."
The nerves settled a bit when he made a birdie on the third hole, while Nelson collected another one on the next hole. The two then parred out the rest of the front nine. But on the back nine, Hoadley got on the birdie train, making birdies on holes 11, 15 and 17.
Now, 17 is a par-3 with a long and storied history in the world of golf. Hoadley said he knew an NBC camera was right behind him when he stepped up to the tee box. He wasn't sure, but he felt like the network was showing him on the air (it was).
"The pin was tucked back in the far corner, and there was a little wind blowing," he said. "It was playing at 175 yards, so I took out my 5-iron, hit a high draw and the ball settled 4 feet from the hole. It was really cool to hear the clapping and cheering. It was a great feeling."
But the hole wasn't over yet. Nelson ended up putting for bogey, while Hoadley was biding his time looking at a downhill 4-footer.
"I was feeling a little nervous over that putt," he said. "But I knocked it in. That was the best moment of the whole tournament for me. After the struggles of the last two years (in the tournament), to do what I did on 17 was just an amazing feeling."
Hoadley traveled to California with his parents Toni and Stephen Hoadley of Southern Pines. He also took along the things he had learned from the people associated with the local First Tee program, especially the director, Al Arrogoni.
"If it wasn't for him (Arrogoni) and the First Tee program, none of this would have been possible. I can't say thank-you enough to Al," Hoadley said. "I had a spectacular time. I got to play one of the prettiest courses in the world, spend a week with my parents, and walk down the fairways with Larry Nelson like we were old friends, joking and laughing all the way.
"It was something I'll remember the rest of my life."
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