FARMINGTON — Patrick Gregoire learned how to play golf on the desert courses of San Juan County.
Now the teenager has earned the chance to put his game to the test along the coast at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Gregoire will play in the 2013 Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach in late September alongside legendary PGA Champions Tour golfers and 80 other The First Tee high school seniors from chapters across the country.
The field of 81 Champions Tour Professionals will team up and mentor the 81 The First Tee players, along with 162 more amateur players in the tournament. The tournament chairman is actor Clint Eastwood and the honorary co-chairman is Arnold Palmer.
Gregoire, a home-schooled student who played golf for Piedra Vista's varsity team his sophomore and junior seasons, was selected by a national panel of judges who evaluated applicants' playing abilities, as well as their understanding of The First Tee's nine core values that teach youth valuable life skills. He is the first participant in the San Juan County chapter to be selected for the tournament, which is in its 10th year.
"It still hasn't sunk in. It feels surreal thinking about it," Gregoire said of his chance to play the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links. "I don't know how I will feel when I get there. I might be calm as day, I might be so nervous I don't make a putt. Either way, I will have a great time."
Gregoire had never picked up a club before joining The First Tee of San Juan County as an 11 year old. His commitment and dedication to the program has now given him his biggest opportunity in golf.
Thomas Yost, the executive director of The First Tee of San Juan County, said Gregoire's commitment to the program has allowed him to participate in the two biggest events a First Tee golfer can partake in.
"The Life Skills and Leadership Academy and this tournament are the top two things we have in The First Tee, and this tournament is the ultimate culmination of everything we do," Yost said. "Patrick went to the life skills academy in 2011, and that is more based on character development than anything. There, they don't care what kind of golfer you are. At this tournament, they are pairing you up with a senior tour player and you really have to be a good golfer."
Yost said he has been able to watch Gregoire blossom into not only a strong golfer, but also a young man with good character.
"We look at progression from both sides of things in The First Tee," Yost said. "His progression in the game and his ability to apply the life skills and develop into a respectful, courtesy young man has been a joy to watch. He has the right mentality to play in a big tournament like this. It may be overwhelming for him, but his good demeanor and positive attitude will give him a lot of poise and patience to help overcome his anxiety."
Gregoire, who is around a one-stroke handicap, said he may be a bit nervous with cameras from the Golf Channel following him and his famous senior tour playing partners. But he said that he has long envisioned himself playing on the big stage with some of the world's best golfers.
He hopes the experience helps him prepare for larger tournaments ahead in college.
"I am not looking for anything specific to gain from the experience. I am just going to look for any opportunity to gain anything," Gregoire said. "I am going in with an open mind and will soak up everything I can grasp. Pebble Beach is certainly going to give me a test that can help prepare me for the next level."
Gregoire won't play varsity golf for Piedra Vista this fall. He and his family have moved to Aurora, Colo., after his dad transferred jobs with ConocoPhillips. He plans on playing for Cherokee Trail High School.
"I am definitely going to miss PV. It has been a lot of fun, and I have a lot of good memories with our team from a lot of good tournaments," he said. "I will miss it, but I am also looking forward to making new memories with my new team."
Yost said The First Tee of San Juan County will greatly miss the presence of Gregoire, who assisted with the Special Olympics State Golf Competition the past four years. And, he added, the teenager's selection to the Pebble Beach tournament means a lot to the program.
"It will be a life experience he will never forget, and that is a big reason why our staff and volunteers do this," Yost said. "Patrick has been a steward for our program. We will miss him a lot in our community. He has been such a big player in volunteering and helping out the younger kids and their development. There will be a big void with him gone."John Livingston can be reached at email@example.com; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.