Ron Agostini

Ron Agostini on Golf: Oakdale junior golfer places 10th at First Tee Open

Oakdale’s Mabel Wong was a star attraction at the Nature Valley First Tee Open.
Oakdale’s Mabel Wong was a star attraction at the Nature Valley First Tee Open. Modesto Bee file

Meeting famous people. Giving interviews on national TV. Hitting memorable shots on one of the most famous spectacular golf courses in the world.

Yes, it was a good week for Oakdale’s Mabel Wong.

The Oakdale High School senior, one of 81 juniors selected to play in the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, enjoyed her experience on and off the course. She and professional Billy Andrade placed a solid tie for 10th in the pro-junior division, and Wong finished strong with four birdies Sunday.

Both players gradually improved – 68-67-66 – 201 – through Friday’s first round at Poppy Hills and Saturday and Sunday at Pebble.

Andrade tied for sixth, with rounds of 69-70-69 – 208, against the Champions Tour pros. He finished four shots behind winner John Cook.

“Billy helped me a lot, especially with reading the greens. They were very hard to read,” Wong said. “I learned from him how to keep going. Billy got better and better as the days progressed. I noticed how structured and relaxed he was.”

One of Wong’s highlights was playing in front of many First Tee of Central Valley students, who bused in Saturday. They cheered her birdie at the par-4 10th (her first hole of the day) and watched her reach the nasty par-5 14th in 2. She slid an 18-degree hybrid from 191 yards up the narrow chute to the right of the huge greenside bunker. Golf Channel’s David Marr interviewed her after that shot as the First Tee kids hollered approval.

Earlier in the week, Wong struck her best shot during the Coca-Cola Challenge, a special five-hole competition featuring only six juniors paired with pros. The local star again made perfect contact with a fairway club, this time a 3-wood at Pebble’s par-5 second, and her 208-yard shot stopped only 7 feet from the cup. Jay Haas missed the eagle putt, however, and the pair eventually earned $1,000 for Modesto’s First Tee chapter.

“I hit my driver great all week, maybe about 245 yards on the average,” Wong said. “It seemed like the more people who were around me, the better I played.”

Off the course, Wong rubbed elbows with the rich and famous, including Yahoo founder Jerry Yang, former 49ers star Steve Young and former US Airlines pilot Sully Sullenberger, who safely ditched his passenger flight on the Hudson River in 2009.

Wong’s caddie last week was Greenhorn Creek (Angels Camp) head pro Allan Ramorini, her swing coach. She capped the tournament with a closing birdie and surely a scrapbook of memories.

“I signed so many autographs. I didn’t realize I was a role model to all the children,” Wong said. “That was emotional for me.”

The Shag Bag – Central Catholic graduate Andrew Bonner, who spent his freshman season at Colorado, has transferred to Oregon. The former Junior Golf Association of Northern California Player of the Year will redshirt this season because of the in-conference transfer rule and will be eligible next fall. Bonner saw action in seven tournaments at Colorado but announced in April he intended to leave. He chose Oregon over UNLV last summer. “There were things with the coach and some things that were promised. It was also too snowy for me,” he said in reference to his time at Colorado. For now, Bonner shares a home in Eugene with football player and fellow CC graduate John Mundt. Bonner will stay busy with practice and classes. His coach, Casey Martin, the former Stanford star, already has made an impression. “He’s very knowledgeable and hands-on at practice,” Bonner said. “He knows what he’s doing.” ...

Coming up: The 22nd annual Andy Silva Memorial Tournament, which benefits the Andy Silva Junior Golf Foundation, on Saturday, Oct. 18, at Diablo Grande. Shotgun start is at 11 a.m., with an awards banquet at 6 p.m. A junior boys and girls Player of the Year also will be announced that night. Call (209) 667-7272. Make checks payable to the Andy Silva Junior Golf Foundation and send to 1431 Heppner Way, Turlock, 95380.

Hole in one – Pat Miller, Oakdale, 122-yard 12th at Oakdale CC, driver.

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