Yosemite High School senior Claire Oetinger has been selected to play in the three-day, 54-hole Pure Insurance PGA Champions Tour event on the Monterey Peninsula Sept. 22-24.
Oetinger will be one of 81 junior golfers (ages 15-18) from around the world who are active in The First Tee program. The junior golfers will team up with 81 PGA tour champions who will play at two of the Monterey Peninsula’s most challenging and famous golf courses - Pebble Beach Golf Links and Poppy Hills Golf Course. Additionally, 162 amateurs will golf in the event in a separate competition.
Boys and girls in the First Tee program must have no higher than a six or eight handicap, respectively, to even submit an application to play in the prestigious tournament. Oetinger’s handicap is currently six.
Other criteria for First Tee golfers to be selected for the tournament included the player’s golf accomplishments, length of time with The First Tee, an essay, and a chapter interview.
“My dad called me into the living room and didn’t know exactly why until I saw the TV screen which was showing the names of all the contestants in the Championship Tour - and there was my name,” Oetinger said. “I was almost in shock, then absolutely overjoyed. I have been going to this event as a spectator since I was 7 years old and I have always wanted to someday play in it. Being accepted to the tournament is truly a dream come true.”
The PGA Champions will be playing for a share of the tournament’s $2 million purse, and all three rounds will televised on the Golf Channel.
Last year’s winning team was professional Michael Allen and The First Tee’s Patrick Fernandez with PGA Champion Paul Broadhurst winning the pro individual title and the team of Joe Huston and David Baker winning the amateur team event.
Anyone who would like to volunteer to work at the event can register online beginning July 17 (visit volunteer page at www.pureinsurancechampionship.com and click on registration).
Leaving her mark on Central Valley girls golf
Oetinger was the No. 1 player on the Badger’s North Sequoia League’s championship golf team last season, and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player for the second time. It was the 12th consecutive year the Lady Badgers won the league title.
Oetinger, who carried a 4.1 GPA last school year, has two hole-in-ones on her golf resume, unusual for a 17-year-old. The first was on Sept. 21, 2016, on the par three, 134-yard 7th hole at Pheasant Run Golf Course in Chowchilla - and a second one on April 10, at Riverside Golf Course on the par three, 137-yard 11th hole during the 70th Annual Len Ross Memorial Golf Tournament.
Oetinger is the eighth player from the Fresno First Tee chapter and the third Yosemite High golfer to participate in the tournament. Sisters Kirsten and Jordan Keyser were selected to play in the event in 2008 and 2010 respectively. Impressive, considering only about a third of First Tee chapters in the United States have had golfers qualify for the event.
Both Keyser girls played with senior pro Mark Calcavecchia who won 13 PGA tour events in his career including the 1989 Open Championship.
After graduating from YHS, both received scholarships, with Kirsten playing for Cal Baptist and Jordan playing at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Claire is the daughter of Rusty and Cecelia Oetinger of Ahwahnee. Rusty has coached YHS golf teams for 15 years - first as the girl’s coach after Eric Hansen retired and the boys team from 2002 to 2010. In 2010, he handed the reigns of the boys team over to Reg Turner to spend more time with his family, although he continued to coach the girl’s team.
Rusty also ran the First Tee program at the now closed Sierra Meadow Golf Course for three years and is a certified The First Tee coach and national trainer. He also serves as the athletic director at YHS.
Rusty said the attributes that make the Keyser sisters and his daughter outstanding golfers is their perseverance and respect for the game.
“They are also very committed to being part of The First Tee,” Rusty said. “All of them spent many hours driving to Fresno to be participants or volunteer as coaches at The First Tee of Fresno. Claire had the Keyser girls to look up to as big sisters and role models, and now she is doing the same for her younger sister and other young girls at The First Tee of Fresno and on the Yosemite golf team.”
Mike Fripo, who has served as the First Tee Fresno Chapter executive director since the program’s inception 10 year ago, has watched Oetinger grow as a player over the years.
“Claire in some ways was a typical youngster ... pretty quiet and unassuming about what she could do in golf,” Firpo said. “But now, although she is still fairly quiet externally, internally she is driven and very confident with her game. All three of these Yosemite High girls stuck with the program since they were 12 and 13 years old, and that commitment and long-term dedication to the game has paid off for all of them.”
Firpo said young players in the Mountain Area have shown a lot of dedication to the game with six to 12 students making the trip to Fresno once a week for lessons and practice.
The First Tee Fresno Chapter currently has a total of 26,000 members including elementary school students who receive lessons but are not ready to play on a golf course. About 500 older students are at the level to routinely play on Valley golf courses.
The First Tee program reaches more than four million students in 9,000 schools worldwide, mostly in the U.S., with the help of 24,000 volunteers and almost 4,000 active coaches.
A spectator badge for the entire week at the Champions Tour event, including three practice rounds (Sept. 19-21), is $25 and will be available online starting July 24.