Ron Agostini

Pebble: A place to learn

Beyer's Canadas says famed golf course is 'better than school'

PEBBLE BEACH -- Katie Canadas drank in the atmosphere and already had it all figured out: She won't soon see a place like Pebble Beach.

The harbor seals in Stillwater Cove. The porpoises jumping near the seventh green. The otters. The sun. The drop-dead beauty. The sensory overload for a wide-eyed 17-year-old Beyer High senior.

"I was thinking about it yesterday as I got back to the car," Canadas said. "I thought, 'This is way better than school!' "

No, Katie, third-period English doesn't quite match up with Pebble Beach, golf's Picasso.

Canadas and her Champions Tour partner Bruce Summerhays (71-75--146) didn't survive the cut for the final round of the Wal-Mart First Tee Open.

For the record, Canadas' heart wasn't broken. In fact, her heart was uplifted by the scene. She finished Saturday at Pebble as the sun sat low in the sky above the Pacific Ocean. It was not a time to stress about pars and bogeys. Canadas knew it was a lifetime experience. Sometimes, the scorecard just doesn't matter.

"I didn't do as well as I wanted to," she admitted. "But it was such a great atmosphere with the pros and being treated like a pro.

"You just forgot about it (the nerves)."

Canadas, a 7-handicapper at Ripon's Spring Creek Country Club, enjoyed her moments. "Come on!" she yelled as a 15-foot putt birdie put rolled to the edge and finally dropped at No. 4. Her tee shots, though erratic, often found Pebble's emerald fairways. She helped Summerhays six strokes during her rounds Friday at Del Monte and Saturday. Not enough assistance, unfortunately, but plenty for her scrapbook.

See, Canadas' No. 2 hobby -- behind golf -- is scrapbooking. Her First Tee saga actually began at The First Tee Academy at Kansas State, where she qualified.

"I've already got the title," she said. "From Kansas to Pebble Beach."

One of her pages no doubt will cover her special gallery, an emerging First Tee tradition at Pebble Beach. Canadas is the third Modestan to play here in the tournament's four-year history. Few chapters can lay claim to three qualifiers in four years -- including Julianna Uhrik in 2004 and Marina Martinez last year -- and no one brings such a support group.

Modesto's First Tee chapter packed two busloads with a party of more than 100, 88 of them young First Tee students, for the trip to 17-Mile Drive. They were hard to miss as they cheered for Canadas and carried signs such as "Katie is Numero Uno!" Much like they yelled for Martinez last year, they again backed their one-girl home team.

"The kids gathered by an autograph area next to some sponsors by the 18th green," said Modesto-raised Cathy Scherzer, the tournament's director of marketing. "A hostess said, 'Oh, no, look at those kids. They're going to make noise.' Wrong. They were so well behaved. They were better behaved than the sponsors."

The local First Tee chapter has made many friends both at Pebble Beach and at its headquarters at Modesto Municipal. About 370 youngsters have learned about golf's fundamentals and its life lessons this year, and executive director Sandra de Alcuaz believes they could reach a record 500 by year's end.

Canadas, who serves as president of the Junior Council, is one of the "elders." So is instructor Chris Dewar, a volunteer since Day 1 four years ago.

"All I can say is 'Girls rock!' " Dewar said, in reference to the Modesto trio which has qualified for the event. "Hopefully, we'll get some boys here someday."

Canadas endorses the experience, of course. She met such stars as Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw, Peter Jacobsen, D.A. Weibring (he gave her a lesson on the practice tee) and Fuzzy Zoeller. And at a pretournament social, she was introduced to special guest Lorena Ochoa, merely the top-ranked women's player in the world.

"Meeting her was the highlight," she said.

What she'll also remember is sister Denise as caddie, parents Tom and Virginia behind the ropes and her First Tee mates cheering.

She'll wrap up her scrapbook week today with one more round at Del Monte with her fellow juniors.

The memories, however, will last much longer.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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