Teen golfer ‘soaked in every moment’ with Phil Mickelson at Wells Fargo Championship Pro-Am round
At the Wells Fargo Championship, 16-year-old Gerry Jones Jr. earned the chance to play with 42-time PGA Tour winner Phil Mickelson — and discovered they share much more than golf.
Standing in the rough on the side of a hill near the green of the par-5 12th hole at Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington, North Carolina, 16-year-old Gerry Jones Jr. weighed his options.
To get the ball close, he’d have to land it just right on the green so it would catch the slope, and funnel toward the hole.
That’s just what he did, and Jones made the 5-foot putt for the lone birdie of the day in a solid 39-39 round of 78.
“Great shot, Gerry,” Mickelson said with a smile after attempting — but failing by a few feet — to hit the same spot with his own approach.
The tournament moved to Eagle Point in Wilmington this year as the longtime tournament site — Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina — prepares to host the 2017 PGA Championship Aug. 7-13.
Mickelson offered praise once again on the par-3 fifth hole, after Jones calmly hit a 9-iron roughly 140 yards over a water hazard and onto the green, about 18 feet in front of the hole. He had just missed the birdie chance for a tap-in par.
Those moments were highlights of the day for Jones as he joined Mickelson and amateur playing partners Michael Anderson and James Goodmon Jr. May 3 for what he called a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
“It’s probably the best round of golf I have ever played with a PGA Tour professional and major winner,” Jones said. “I really enjoyed myself and soaked in every moment.”
Succeeding with The First Tee®
Wells Fargo created the contest as part of its Succeeding Together program for the more than 30,000 teenage participants of The First Tee®, a youth development organization that the company supports financially and through volunteerism.
The First Tee builds character, instills life-enhancing values, and promotes healthy choices through programs delivered at more than 1,080 golf courses, elementary schools (The First Tee National School Program), and youth centers (The First Tee DRIVE) across the U.S.
Wells Fargo deepened its commitment to The First Tee in April 2015 by becoming one of its national trustees and agreeing to provide $1 million to the nonprofit through 2020.
As the grand prize winner, Jones, a member of The First Tee of Hampton Roads, got to pick the PGA Tour pro he wanted to play with. He said he chose Mickelson for his professional golf resume and reputation.
‘Gerry blew me away’
“He embodies the game of golf and what it stands for,” Jones said of his Wells Fargo Championship Pro-Am partner in a round that offered plenty of surprises.
The first was hearing people calling out his name after good shots, and asking for his autograph.
The second surprise was learning that Mickelson shares his interest in aeronautics and space planes and exploration — a conversation that began on the back nine after Mickelson learned Jones’ favorite movie was “Interstellar.”
The PGA Tour pro referenced their shared interests in his post-round interview next to the 18th green.
“Gerry blew me away because not only does he have a lot of game, a lot of clubhead speed, and is a real talent,” Mickelson said, “but he’s very interesting to talk to and very knowledgeable in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field. I love seeing a player of his capabilities also be interested in math and science.
“I love seeing a kid like Gerry take advantage of The First Tee … and I love seeing the benefits of The First Tee. It’s really been a long-term investment, and people like Gerry are making it all worthwhile.”
Getting golf pointers from a pro
Jones won the right to play at the Wells Fargo Championship by writing about the importance of having, and being a part of, a “Go-To Team.”
Two big parts of that team are his dad, Gerry Sr., and mom, Marquetta, who walked the Eagle Point Golf Club fairways with him. They loved seeing their son play well and talk with Mickelson about science and his interest in one day pursuing a career as a scientist or engineer.
“I have a lot of respect for my parents, and they encourage me in whatever I do, and stand behind me all the time,” Jones said.
Joining Jones in Wilmington were the three first-prize winners in the essay contest — Cole Drew, 17, from The First Tee of Denver; Cailey Rooker, 16, from The First Tee of Benton Harbour (Michigan); and Alexa Vela, 13, from The First Tee of Greater Houston — all who also earned trips to the Wells Fargo Championship.
When the talk did turn to golf during their round together, Mickelson gave Jones pointers about arm position during a swing, course management and shaping shots to take advantage of the layout of a hole, and the mental side of the game — such as how to stay focused throughout a round.
“I will cherish them all, and the opportunity The First Tee and Wells Fargo gave me to talk to and learn from someone like him,” Jones said. “Today was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and a true honor.”