This Thursday will be a big day for 15-year-old Kayla McClendon. The high school sophomore (Chamblee Charter High School) has been chosen to hit the ceremonial tee shot that will open the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola at East Lake Golf Club.
McClendon is involved in The First Tee of East Lake — a year-round golf instruction and mentoring program that uses the sport's principles (discipline, hard work) as well as nine core values (honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment) to enhance the academic achievement and life skills of youth in the East Lake community.
The opportunity wasn’t just handed to her for being one of the top golfers in the program; she had to work for it. First Tee participants played four rounds of nine holes of golf to win the honor. McClendon and another opponent had the same score and entered in a playoff round, which she won.
“I’m very excited,” she said.
“I was there last year and watched the [opening ceremonies] and it looked like fun.”
Being involved in the First Tee program has shown McClendon how to set goals and work to achieve them.
“I set an ultimate goal, then figure out the things I have to do in order to reach that goal. For every goal you set, it requires a certain amount of work and time put in. You have to do what is needed; prioritize what’s important.”
McClendon was also chosen to attend The First Tee Life Skills and Leadership Academy in Phoenix, Arizona this past summer.
Opportunities like that and other golf obligations (like this Thursday’s festivities) mean missed school so she must work overtime to catch up.
“It’s all about time management,” McClendon said. “I’ve had to practice a lot these last weeks, which means balancing golf and school and ultimately getting everything done.”
She hits the course three or four times a week, and in school, is involved in the Interact Club and Beta Club where she participates in various community service activities.
McClendon is no stranger to giving back. The teen also works with younger kids in the First Tee program when she can.
“I’ll go early to our Saturday morning practice and help out the coaches. And I’ll invite [younger kids] to play with us. The coaches can’t coach everybody at the same time, so I like to help out and give pointers.”
It appears to be trickle down effect from the coaches themselves.
“All my coaches are great role models. They’re really encouraging and I know they would do anything to help me. They’ve developed a personal relationship with all the kids of First Tee.”
Aside from golf skills and goal setting, the First Tee program has helped McClendon overcome shyness.
“It has really built my confidence and brought out my social side. I’m not afraid to talk to people and introduce myself. I can hold a conversation with just about anyone.”
The charismatic young lady plans to play golf in college and see where that takes her.
“I’ll definitely continue playing golf for the rest of my life. As for going pro, we’ll see what happens after college.”
Kayla McClendon will hit the ceremonial tee shot for the TOUR Championship at 11 a.m. this Thurs., Sept. 22 at East Lake Golf Club. Follow her during this exciting week.