Nine-year-old Matthew Bonner of West Hartford was chosen by First Tee of Connecticut as one of 20 junior golfers who had a chance to spend time behind the ropes with the professionals on the grounds of the TPC in Cromwell during the Travelers Championship.
By Ronni Newton
Matthew Bonner had to miss his second-to-last day of fourth grade on Tuesday, with an excuse that probably had not been used at Bugbee Elementary School ever before: he was playing golf with some professionals as the PGA tour came to Connecticut for the Travelers Championship.
After writing an essay about what the experience would mean, and having met many of the PGA’s core “life skills” values, and having participated in the First Tee of Connecticut program since the age of 5, Matthew was one of 20 junior golfers, ages 8-18, chosen for the Eversource PGA Tour Player Experience on Tuesday afternoon. He also had the chance to participate in a Game Day Experience sponsored by the Federation of Christian Athletes (FCA) on Tuesday morning.
He missed teacher Dahlia Cherney’s “math board,” but instead spent the morning walking the links with pros Kevin Streelman – winner of the 2014 Travelers Championship and course record-holder – and Rob Oppenheim, as the pair practiced for the Thursday start of tournament play. He was given a chance to putt, and some tips during the 9-hole practice round as well as afterward as the pros and youth gathered in the Mohegan Sun sponsor tent.
“I played with whoever let me play with them,” Streelman told the kids. “If you want to get good at the game … play in as many tournaments as you can. Take it step-by-step,” Streelman said.
Matthew spent the afternoon playing three holes with Irish golfer Padraig Harrington, followed by a behind-the-scenes tour of some of the PGA equipment, and a clinic.
Matthew said that “walking the holes inside the ropes with the players” was the highlight of the experience, as well as getting to putt.
“I was the closest out of the three,” he said, with one of those putts made by a pro. “It was because of the break,” Matthew quickly added – a response that would make sense to a golfer.
Matthew said that his favorite golfer is Rory McIlroy, as he proudly showed off the autograph he had gotten earlier in the day from the player who is currently ranked seventh in the world.
At 9, Matthew was one of the youngest to participate in Tuesday’s activities, but he’s no newbie to the sport. And he already knew his way around the TPC course because he’s done two weeks of golf camp there every summer since he was 5.
“My favorite golf course is this one,” Matthew said. But he said he hadn’t had much time to play yet this year. He’s involved in several other sports – including hockey (which he said is his favorite) and lacrosse.
This summer, Matthew will play on the PGA Junior League Tour, and in July will compete in the the tour’s “Drive, Chip & Putt” competition. Last year he entered the competition on a whim, and placed 10th out of 41.
Matthew also qualified for a selective summer lacrosse tournament, so he’s going to have a very active summer.
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