Madelyn Dimitroff awoke before dawn Wednesday, and not for anything related to school or making an early tee time.
She waited, then watched her name pop up on NBC’s Golf Channel broadcast of the 81 youth golfers chosen to play at fabled Pebble Beach in September with senior PGA Tour professionals at the Champions Tour Nature Valley First Tee Open.
Dimitroff, 16, a rising senior at Catholic High, was chosen among applicants from First Tee youth golf programs across America. She will soon be preparing to play one of the world’s greatest golf venues.
“I am super excited,” said Dimitroff, prior to her pairing Thursday afternoon in the annual Southern Juniors Tournament at Scenic Hills. She shot a 79 and took the first-round lead. “I woke up at 5:30 in the morning. I was anxiously waiting and we just all screamed when my name came across the screen.
“My mom and I were both on the verge of tears. It was just a really amazing feeling. I’m just so happy. I’ve been waiting for so long. It’s such a pleasure rush. I can’t believe I made it.”
Dimitroff, who turns 17 on July 27, started in the First Tee of Northwest Florida when she was 8. She’s been active ever since. She began helping to coach and mentor younger kids when she started her freshman year at Catholic.
“She is an exceptional young lady,” said Marty Stanovich, executive director of the First Tee of Northwest Florida, which has grown into more than 1,200 participants. “In the past year, she has put in more than 100 hours volunteering and mentoring kids. She is basically a coach as well as being a participant in the program.”
Dimitroff, whose father, Matt, introduced her to golf and taught basic skills, is the first participant in seven years from this area’s First Tee chapter to be chosen to play at Pebble Beach Golf Links with Champions Tour pros. The tournament week is Sept. 11-18. Clint Eastwood is the tournament chairman. Arnold Palmer is the co-chairman.
Both will be part of a pre-tournament dinner that will include the junior golfers and some of the game’s greatest players who are now part of the Champions Tour. Pensacola’s Joe Durant, 52, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour and winner last year on the Champions Tour, will be playing in the tournament and could get paired with Dimitroff.
To attend the week will involve being excused from a full week of classes at Catholic, which begins its semester on Aug. 10.
“It is amazing,” Dimitroff said. “I am so grateful. I have had so many people supporting me throughout my golf journey. I’m just excited to meet all these pros. I am excited to represent the First Tee of Northwest Florida.
“I hope that some of these kids who I work with can one day get to play there. it would make me so happy to see other kids make it like I did. “
Getting selected is not just about being a talented golfer. Applicants must meet a variety of criteria that includes academic success, community service and how much they are part of helping make a difference in their local First Tee chapter.
Dimitroff had to completed a 20-page application that included an essay and required listing all of the ways she is a difference maker in the community through junior golf.
“When you think of 81 young people from across the United States out of literally tens of thousands of First Tee participants is amazing,” said Marty Stanovich, executive director of the First Tee of Northwest Florida. “And we’re a small market chapter.
“We’ve had wonderful nominees between now and when (Pace High grad) Ashleigh Ryals went in 2009. We nominate at least one, sometimes two participants each year. It is so competitive to be chosen.”
Dimitroff has advanced into one of the four “Ace” level members of the local First Tee chapter. Stanovich explained it as the equivalent of being an Eagle Scout. These are the elite, highest-achiever members who volunteer to help others in growing golf.
She works with kids at Osceola ages 5-13, most of whom had never seen or picked up a golf club prior to getting involved in First Tee.
“The happiest time for me is seeing the joy on their faces when they hit a shot,” Dimitroff said. “It so great seeing how happy they are.”
The national First Tee program has partnered with the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour to help grow golf from diverse backgrounds. Applicants like Dimitroff were chosen for what they’ve done beyond their own level of advancement.
“For this tournament (at Pebble Beach), it’ not the 81 best golfers in the United States. It’s the 81 best applicants who are amazing young people, who also happen to be very good golfers,” Stanovich said “They are chosen because of academics, extra-curricular activities, community service and all of those things that are huge difference-makers.”
Sarah Dimitroff said her daughter’s current grade point average is 4.5. She is No. 2 among all incoming seniors at Catholic High.
“We are very excited,” Sarah Dimitroff said. “We knew she had a strong application. But to be actually be picked was just so phenomenal. We are super proud.”
Madelyn’s younger brother, Nicholas, 13, will be a freshman at Catholic and part of the varsity boys golf team. He has competed in the National Drive, Pitch and Putt regional championships. He’s hoping to get the chance to win the super regional tournament and advance to the finals which are the Sunday before the Masters at Augusta National.
“They both learned the game of golf from coming out to the First Tee program at Osceola Golf Course,” Stanovich said.
Dimitroff is hoping to continue her golf career in college. She has steadily dropped her scoring average. She has a current 3.7 handicap, Sarah Dimitroff said. This fall will be the chance to get the college scholarship off.
.”She has put herself in a really good position to successful in every way,” Stanovich said.
— One of 16 Florida participants, and the only one in the Florida Panhandle chosen to play In Nature Valley First Tee Open
— Invitees were chosen by a national panel of judges.
— Tournament rounds are Sept. 16-18 (54 holes) at Pebble Beach Golf Links and Poppy HIlls at Pebble Beach
— All tournament rounds broadcast worldwide on NBC Golf Channel.
— First Tee players in the tournament are ages 14-18
— The tournament will feature two juniors competing with the Champions Tour pros.