Wallace contends at Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach provided a picturesque backdrop for Wallace’s performance.

PEBBLE BEACH, CA – Kendall Wallace is living the dream – playing a tournament with the likes of three-time US Open Champion Hale Irwin and some of the top CEO’s nationally, and chatting casually with Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, on the putting green at Poppy Hills Golf Course. But that’s life these days for the Westwood High School golfing standout.

And if that’s not enough excitement for one week, Wallace’s foursome, which included Irwin, missed winning the tournament by one shot.

These were only a few of the unforgettable experiences Wallace enjoyed while competing recently in the PURE Insurance Championship Impacting the First Tee last month.

The annual event, hosted by the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, occurred Sept. 24-30 at Pebble Beach Golf Links and Poppy Hills Golf Course. The competition was televised internationally on the Golf Channel.

For Wallace, it was one of many tournaments in which he competes regularly.

Wallace teamed up with Hale Irwin to play Pebble Beach.

Fresh off his California experience, the Blythewood resident is heading to St. Augustine, Florida this weekend for the St. Augustine Amateur Oct. 12-14. He frequently competes in the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour and South Carolina Junior Golf Association events as well top amateur tournaments in North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

But he acknowledges to a certain satisfaction in teeing it up at Pebble Beach, which will host the U.S. Open in 2019. It also hosted the 2018 U.S. Amateur.

Wallace punched his ticket to Pebble Beach by being one of 81 junior golfer qualifiers nationwide for the First Tee competition. The tournament also included 162 amateurs, including prominent CEOs.

Each junior player was matched with a PGA Champions Tour player and two amateurs. Competition consisted of 54 holes of best ball format.

The field was a virtual who’s who from the PGA Champions Tour, with Bernhard Langer, Tom Watson, Vijay Singh and Mark O’Meara in the field.

A member of First Tee of Columbia, Wallace was paired with Irwin and the CEO  and CFO of General Mills. The foursome combined to shoot 14-under par in the best ball format, good enough to finish T4, but only one shot behind a three-team cluster that tied for first place at 15 under par.

Wallace was also awarded a $1,000 scholarship at the end of the tournament for his efforts.

Wallace said Irwin was comfortable to golf with, offering golf tips here and there during practice rounds.

“He encouraged me to have fun and enjoy the event,” Wallace said. “He told me to, “be proud of what you’ve done, but be prouder of what you’re going to accomplish.’ That stuck with me the whole time, and it’s still with me.”

Wallace’s parents, Blythewood residents Anthony and Jackie Wallace, Director of Public Relations for the Fairfield County School District, and his sister, Allison, also traveled to Pebble Beach to watch him play.

Asked if her son was intimidated by the star-studded company, Jackie Wallace said he was not.  “He seemed confident. He went out there with lots of confidence and enjoyed it,” she said.

Wallace spent the first three days in practice rounds and the last three playing the tournament.

He attributes much of his success to what he’s learned through First Tee, a national youth development organization that focuses on building character in its members through the game of golf.

“What you learn at First Tee can help you with anything you’re doing in life,” Wallace said.

Sally McDaniel Beacham, Executive Director of First Tee of Columbia, said Wallace is the epitome of First Tee’s core values.

Now an elder statesman of the local chapter, Wallace takes time to mentor the younger players, Beacham said.

“He knows what it’s like, which is why he talks to the kids and engages with them,” she said.

Wallace said First Tee has taught him a lot.

“I didn’t even know to be quiet, or that I had to have my shirt tucked in,” Wallace said with a laugh. “First Tee gave me opportunities that, if I wasn’t playing golf, I wouldn’t have had.”

The penultimate of those opportunities was playing Pebble Beach, where tee times ordinarily must be booked far in advance and run north of $500.

Wallace said the California climate was noticeably crisp, a far cry from the summertime 90s he left behind in Blythewood.

The mere visual at Pebble Beach Golf Links – waves crashing into the rocks of Carmel Bay below and the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean beyond – is enough to hypnotize most undisciplined players. And Wallace acknowledges he, too, found himself mesmerized by the beauty of No. 7.

“I looked at my dad and coach and said, ‘I’m really at Pebble Beach,’” Wallace said. “TV doesn’t do it justice.”

If Wallace slipped into a trance, he must have shaken it off the moment he stepped onto the tee box, striking a short iron to the putting surface and draining the putt for a birdie 2.

Not bad, especially after carding an eagle 3 on the previous hole.

Being a standout in his game is nothing new for Wallace, a member of the SC Junior Golf Association. He’s been the MVP for Westwood since 7th grade and frequently plays top amateur tournaments in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Looking ahead, Wallace said he hopes to continue his golfing career in college, though he remains undecided. Whether life after that includes more golf competition or some other pursuit, Wallace says First Tee put him on the right path.

“People don’t see golf as a sport sometimes. They think it’s easy,” he said. “But golf has helped make me the person who I am.”

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