Sep. 23—Mead High School senior Ben Jones is missing classes this week, but he has a quality excuse.
Jones is one of 78 First Tee juniors selected to participate in the PGA Champions Tour's PURE Insurance Championship at famed Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill on California's Monterey Peninsula. After practice rounds Wednesday and Thursday, Jones will be paired with the Champions Tour's Joey Sindelar and two amateurs on Friday and Saturday. There is a cut after 36 holes before Sunday's final round at Pebble Beach.
Jones said he's "very excited" for the opportunity, in part because of his appreciation for golf history and his experience three years ago as a spectator when older brother Matt played in the same tournament.
"You know when you step onto Pebble Beach you can kind of feel everything that's happened there," he said. "When I was walking around (three years ago), you know Tiger (Woods) has walked there and I remember (2019 U.S. Open champion) Gary Woodland's chip at the 17th green."
The selection process included four essays on topics ranging from dealing with his biggest struggles in life to the influence of his biggest role model. Jones has volunteered to help at the Spokane Golf Show and assisted First Tee of the Inland Northwest executive director Todd Sturgis at instructional classes. Jones has been involved in First Tee for more than a decade, initially tagging along when his father, Rick, worked with youngsters.
Applicants also must have a handicap of 6.0 or less. Jones, who has a 3.5 grade-point average, carries a plus 1.5 handicap.
After his paperwork was submitted, Jones was on hold until a July morning when First Tee selections were revealed live on Golf Channel. It had the feel of watching the NCAA Tournament selection show for Jones, who was eager to find out if he was in or out of the field.
"It's a really big process and it took about a month to get everything finished," said Jones, one of several key players returning for Mead after its second-place finish at the State 3A tournament last May. "I woke up a 6 a.m. or something (to watch the show) and our region was the last. I think it was a two-hour show, and I had to watch the first 1:45, seeing all the other regions. It was pretty cool seeing my name."
Jones walked Pebble Beach when his brother played three years ago. He's played the scenic course and nearby Spyglass Hill on a simulator at Kalispel Golf and Country Club. He's had a busy summer playing in area tournaments and he's been practicing every day for nearly a month leading into this weekend.
Past PURE Insurance champions include K.J. Choi last year, Jim Furyk in 2020, Bernhard Langer in 2017 and Pullman High product Kirk Triplett in 2019 and 2013. Sindelar, 64, won seven PGA Tour events between 1985 and 2004.
Jones will have plenty of support with his family, including Matt, who attends Grand Canyon University, and Mead golf coach Paul Peters in attendance.
"I definitely think I'll be a little bit nervous. I feel like the first tee will be the hardest, but I'm just going to try to have as much fun as I can and just soak it up," said Jones, whose goal is to play collegiate golf following his senior year. "There's so much to look forward to. When my brother was at the tournament, he was never with us. He was always at different events.
"I'm definitely looking forward to meeting people from all over the U.S. I'm looking forward to talking to (Sindelar), learning more and talking to him in depth about his career."