Suffolk teen swings with pros

Published 10:23 pm Saturday, May 20, 2017

A young Suffolk golfer wrote a contest-winning essay and met a professional idol this May.

Gerry Jones Jr., a 16-year-old Suffolk homeschool student in the 10th grade, won the grand prize of the 2017 Wells Fargo “Succeeding Together” essay contest: a four-day, three-night trip to the Wells Fargo Championship that was held earlier this May in Wilmington, N.C.

“That experience is definitely at the top of the list,” Jones said. “I don’t have many words for it. It was such a great honor to go one of the best courses in the United States.”

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The prize allowed him to choose a PGA Tour golfer to play with in the tournament’s Pro-Am on May 3.  He played a round of golf at that renowned course with three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson. The two walked down the fairway together with a large entourage, bouncing between topics that ranged from sport to science fiction.

Suffolk resident Gerry Jones Jr., 16, holds the commemorative plaque he received when he attended the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship held in Wilmington, N.C., as the grand prize winner of the 2017 Wells Fargo “Succeeding Together” essay contest. The plaque is signed by PGA Tour golfer and three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, with whom he played in the tournament’s Pro-Am on May 3.

The two found a shared interest in science during their conversations.

“It was really cool,” Jones said. “I soaked in every moment. It was definitely the best round of golf I’ve ever had.”

The contest was held by The First Tee youth development organization, which introduces golf and its values to more than 30,000 young people across the country. Jones has been a member of the Hampton Roads chapter since he was 5 years old.

“They’ve been a big part of my life and helped grow my character,” he said.

Contestants wrote essay responses to questions about their mentors. Jones described the importance and contributions of his parents, and the First Tee staff that have taught him the core values of the organization.

Those values are honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment. Jones said the practicality of these values goes beyond the golf course.

“You can take each core value you and apply it to life,” he said. “That’s what I thought was really cool.”

He said he was 3 years old when he was given his first set of real golf clubs. He now practices three to four days a week for three to five hours each session. The golf resume he submitted with his essay featured 12 competitions that he’s competed in since March 2016.

“It’s not like many other sports with referees and shot clocks,” Jones said. “It’s a game of etiquette and honesty, and in the end, it’s the player who calls the penalty on himself. It really lets someone know what kind of person you are.”

He coaches children ages 5 to 12 as a First Tee Character Education Golf Coach and Mentor at golf courses throughout Hampton Roads. In one of his essay responses, he described the “rewarding feeling” of teaching and supporting these aspiring golfers.

“They’re going to be future leaders themselves, and I want to help contribute to that,” Jones said.

He said his plan is to keep golfing when he begins college and to see what doors open for him from there. The thought of playing professionally remains an exciting prospect.

“If that opportunity ever comes up in my life, I’ll definitely take advantage of it as fast as I can,” he said.