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First Tee program comes to Medford

Like a good son, Jeremiah Paladino listened to his mom.

As a result, The First Tee, a national organization that introduces kids to golf and uses it as a vehicle to promote life values, will get a foothold in the area.

Paladino joined the Rotary Club of Medford a couple years ago. The club has a sports committee and used to run a golf tournament. The idea to resurrect the tournament came up, and Paladino spearheaded a move to link it to The First Tee.

"To be honest," says the 36-year-old father of two, "my mom had been bugging me about looking into trying to bring it into Southern Oregon. She's from South Dakota. She was poking me and prodding me. 'Hey, you guys have a First Tee program? "¦ Maybe you should get on that.'"

He told her he'd see what he could do and, well, it's in the works.

Viewers of golf have likely seen TV commercials for the program. Kids learn about the game, get a chance to play it and become familiar with nine core values important to golf: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.

Nine healthy habits, among them energy, play and safety, are also instilled.

There are several programs offered by The First Tee. The ones you see on TV are chapters, which operate at golf courses. In Oregon, there's a chapter in Portland that has a half-dozen branches, including in Eugene and North Bend but nothing further south.

Paladino is starting a program at the elementary classroom level through the The First Tee National School Program.

It will be part of the physical education curriculum, and teachers will be provided training, lesson plans and equipment.

The cost to outfit one school with the tools is $3,250. To raise funds, Medford Rotary is staging a golf tournament at 9 a.m. June 16 at Centennial Golf Club. Registration information is available at www.medfordfirsttee.com.

The goal is to make enough money to introduce golf to at least one elementary school each year. Medford Rotary is working with the school district to determine which will be the first to add the curriculum.

"I would think it would be feasible to do two or three schools each year," says Paladino.

A trial run was held three weeks ago at Centennial, which donated instruction time and provided equipment it already had for its own junior programs. Twelve students from Jackson Elementary took part.

"I thought it would be fun for the kids, first of all, to get over and see what it's like," says Paladino, who also wanted to see how the equipment worked out. "That was my first thought, let's get it out there and say, this is what we're doing."

The quasi golf equipment — clubs are plastic and oversized, balls are mini tennis balls — are perfect aids for beginners.

"You can't miss," says Paladino.

There are also color-coded tools to show how far back to bring the club for a chip shot, a short-iron approach or a full swing and instruction on stance, grip, etc.

It's a very basic, fun way to expose children to a game that could use a growth spurt. Along the way, they get some life lessons.

"Getting those values and habits instilled to the kids early is just as important as the golf itself," says Paladino.

Paladino has been involved in golf since his youth. He caddied for a couple years growing up in South Dakota and played in high school and college. He walked on at Missouri State and played two years for the Bears, getting in three tournaments, he guesses.

Now, Paladino gets out relatively infrequently because of work and a young family. His kids are 4 and 3 months, and the older is already swinging a club.

"They'll be exposed to golf," he says.

Possibly in elementary school, thanks to Dad.


FREE KIDS CLINIC: Speaking of junior golf, the American Junior Golf Association will visit Centennial Golf Club for the fifth straight year, and it's all about youth golf.

Among the more popular tournaments on the national AJGA swing, the Centennial event features a free clinic for kids at 2:30 p.m. June 23. Top junior players and staff members will provide instruction at the Centennial learning facility.

Tournament activities begin June 22 with a qualifier. A junior-amateur tournament, for which there are still a few openings, is the following day, prior to the kids clinic. The tournament itself is June 24-26 and annually has many players who have signed with or are on the radars of Division I college programs.

Medford's Dylan Wu won the boys division last year. He won't be entered this year.

Those wishing to play in the junior-am or volunteer to help at the tourney should contact Centennial general manager Vince Domenzain at 541-776-4653 or vdomenzain@centennialgolfclub.com.


ALLRED UPDATE: Jason Allred's tie for 15th in the Memorial last week vaulted him closer to some PGA Tour benchmarks, according to Kirsten Burgess of the tour's competition administration.

Allred has earnings of $508,227 and has accrued 236 FedExCup points.

In order to earn his PGA card for next year, he would need to finish the season in the top 125 in either money or points.

He would be eligible in the top 125 non-member category, which comes right after the top 125 money category for members.

In an email, Burgess said the tour can't be certain what it will take to be in the top 125 at the end of the regular season — which concludes with the Wyndham Championship Aug. 17 — but the PGA is projecting a little less than $700,000 and around 415 points.

If Allred doesn't earn a card through a top-125 performance, he'll have an opportunity to do so in the Web.com Tour Finals, for which he's already earned enough points to qualify.

There are about eight PGA tournaments left for him to get into through sponsor exemptions or Monday qualifying. He's already been awarded a spot in one of them, the Reno-Tahoe Open that starts July 31.

As a non-member, Allred is restricted to 12 PGA events and seven sponsor exemptions. Those would be lifted at some point this season, allowing him to get in as many tournaments as he can, if he reaches 278 FedExCup points, which is equal to 150th on last year's points list.

Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com