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Gilman junior golfer Jairus Gaines is playing in the 2016 Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach in California.
Gilman junior golfer Jairus Gaines is playing in the 2016 Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach in California. (staff photo by Jennifer Rynda)

There are some avid golfers whose lifelong dream is to one day be lucky enough to play a course at Pebble Beach.

Gilman's Jairus Gaines is already about to check the iconic California destination off his bucket list, considering that the 17-year-old is headed to the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach from Sept. 13-18 in the Golden State.

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Gaines is just one of 81 golfers from 200 First Tee chapters nationwide chosen for the event, and the the 5-foot-9, 165-pound junior is following in the footsteps of former Gilman teammate Charles Young Jr., who earned the same honor two years ago.

"I'm thrilled that he was chosen," Gilman coach Mike Wallace said. "It's a terrific opportunity for Jairus to further invigorate his passion for the game."

That passion began when he was barely out of diapers while watching his father play the sport.

By the time the Greyhounds No. 2 player was 4, he was leafing through his father's copy of Ben Hogan's golf fundamentals handbook to check out the pictures of proper grips.

At the ripe old age of 6, he drained a long putt in the third round of a playoff to qualify for a prestigious tournament at the famed Pinehurst No. 2 course in North Carolina.

Ten years ago, his father, Jerome Gaines, saw an advertisement for the First Tee program, which bills itself as "an international youth development organization introducing the game of golf and its inherent values to young people," according to its website.

The local chapter is based at Clifton Park in Baltimore.

The organization, which boasts some 200 chapters nationwide, puts an emphasis on core values — honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, respect, courtesy and judgment — that serve young golfers well on and off the course.

Given his own steady demeanor, Gaines and First Tee are a perfect fit.
"He's very even-keeled," his father said.

So much so that in a summer tournament in Virginia, the younger Gaines barely batted an eye when he made a hole-in-one.

"He didn't celebrate at all," his father added. "He just waved his hands as if to say 'let's move on.' That's just the way he is."

Yet, Gaines could not help having an emotional reaction after waiting two months from the time he applied for the honor until he heard that he had been selected.

"I was ecstatic when I got the news," he said. "But I had to keep my nerves in check because I had a big tournament coming up."

The way Wallace describes Gaines' game, the teen should be able to hold his own wherever he plays, even in an event co-chaired by Clint Eastwood and Arnold Palmer that features 81 PGA Tour Champions players and 81 junior golfers ages 15-18.

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"Jairus excels in all aspects of the game, and he is extremely mentally tough," Wallace said. "If one aspect is off, he finds a way to allow his other strengths to make up for it. And when he puts it all together, he's capable of carding a very low score."

The youngster said that he has spent "hour and hour on end," practicing his short game, which he considers his strong suit.

He is also an ambassador for the sport, helping First Tee director Matt Bassler teach golf etiquette to younger players at Clifton Park and Forest Park.

"Jairus speaks to the life skills we teach," said Matt Bassler, the program director for the First Tee of Baltimore. "He's a walking example of our core values. He comes and hangs out with the younger players, and brings his expertise so they can see how things should be done."

Gaines' adventure in the 54-hole tournament at Pebble Beach Golf Links and Poppy Hills Golf Course on the Monterey Peninsula, however, will command most of his attention over the next week.

"I love it," he said. "I'm so happy. I can't wait to play. I hope it's something I will remember for the rest of my life."

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