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First Tee wants to expand reach

As the First Tee of Charlotte rolls into its third year in its impressive facility adjacent to the Dr. Charles Sifford Golf Course at Revolution Park, it has a new executive director and a goal of expanding its reach in the Charlotte community.

Jennifer MacCurrach was named executive director in April, taking over a program that mentored almost 1,000 young people last year. MacCurrach worked previously at the First Tee program in Austin, Texas.

The First Tee program here has approximately 50 volunteers of different ages and backgrounds who work with participants.

"It's an initiative where the community has embraced helping kids get into golf and the life skills program. The success isn't really driven by the three of us who work here but by the mentors and the volunteers," MacCurrach said.

"So many of these kids don't have adult friends they can go to. Golf is an equalizer in that regard. It breaks down barriers for kids. It puts less pressure on a relationship. For some of these kids, these could be the first adults who are showing up on a consistent basis and doing the things they said they were going to do."

The First Tee program uses golf to teach life skills. Putting drills, for example, help young people learn to establish goals, MacCurrach said. Participants are taught study skills, responsibility and perseverance while learning the basics of playing the game.

Two summer sessions (four days a week) are being offered this year. The first runs June 13-July 14 and the second is July 25-Aug. 18.

A First Tee-styled program is also expected to be introduced in 21 area elementary schools in the fall.

"I'd like to see it get to the point where being a graduate of the First Tee has the same merit as being an Eagle scout."

OBSERVATIONS

Jonathan Price, the sophomore at Granville Central High who intentionally lost a playoff so his friend and teammate Michael Pope could play in the state high school championship recently, has written a short first-person story for Sports Illustrated's Golf Plus section this week.

Price also spoke at Old Chatham Golf Club's annual black-tie dinner after news of his unselfishness spread.

After a handful of near-miss opportunities, Luke Donald ascended to No.1 in the world with his sudden-death victory over Lee Westwood Sunday at the BMW PGA Championship in England.

There's no question Donald has been the game's steadiest player for months and deserves the No.1 ranking.

How long will he remain No.1?

Donald might be there for a while. Since Tiger Woods surrendered the throne, there's been no dominant No.1, but Donald's game could keep him there. Once a guy who was criticized for not being able to win, Donald is now the guy you have to beat to win.

He doesn't radiate the charisma of Phil Mickelson or the style of Ian Poulter, but Donald has a confident coolness about him. The list of favorites at the U.S. Open in two weeks starts with Donald.

N.C. State men's golf coach Richard Sykes just keeps rolling along.

Sykes is in his 39th season as the Wolfpack coach, which makes him among the longest-tenured coaches in college sports, and he has his team in the NCAA championship again this week in Stillwater, Okla.

He doesn't draw attention to himself - though he has a legendary sense of humor - but his success earned him a spot in the Golf Coaches Hall of Fame a decade ago.

Tim Clark, Carl Pettersson, Matt Hill, Vance Heafner, Kelly Mitchum, Garth Mulroy and Marc Turnesa are among those who have played for Sykes, who owns a special place in this state's golf history.

THE LIST

With Donald supplanting Westwood as the No.1 player in the world golf rankings this week, it got me to thinking about the best of the best since the rankings began 25 years ago.

Donald became the 15th player to be ranked No.1, and remarkably none of them have been named Mickelson. Here are my top five No.1 players in the Official World Golf Rankings era:

1. Tiger Woods: What a shock. He spent 623 weeks at No.1, which equals 11.9 years. He might never be No.1 again, but he owned it for more than a decade, almost as much as everyone else combined.

2. Greg Norman: It's almost easy now to forget how big and dominant he was for a long time. He occupied No.1 for 331 weeks with a game that was almost as big as his personality and image.

3. Nick Faldo: He was bigger in Europe than he was in the United States because he played more there, but Faldo - long before we knew he could be funny - was a classic grinder. He kept giving himself chances in major championships and wound up with six of them.

4. Seve Ballesteros: He was No.1 for 61 weeks but the rankings came along during the back half of his prime. At his best, he was unlike anyone else, in his style and his game.

5. Vijay Singh: He bumped Woods off his throne a few years back, which was a monumental achievement. He won nine times in 2004 when he overtook Woods and is the PGA Tour's best ever in his 40s.

If you're wondering, the other No. 1-ranked players are Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Fred Couples, Nick Price, Tom Lehman, Ernie Els, David Duval and Martin Kaymer, as well as Westwood and Donald.

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