Quarterfinals: 1st Tee Director Carries Standard For Program September 16, 2014 By Lisa D. Mickey and Joey Flyntz, USGA

Mark McCabe, program director at The First Tee Raritan Valley, has often coordinated volunteer opportunities for his participants. (USGA/Jonathan Ernst)

DEAL, N.J. - With a touch of autumn in the morning air and the puff of breath coming from his mouth as he spoke on the first tee, Mark McCabe proudly held the scoring standard, waiting for his group to tee off. It was the start to his day in Wednesday’s quarterfinal match at the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur.

And while McCabe, the program director at The First Tee Raritan Valley in Kenilworth, N.J., has assigned the role of carrying the standard to his First Tee kids for area tournaments, he had never assumed that role himself. Wednesday’s assignment was a chance to not only volunteer, but also to learn first-hand the duties of a standard bearer in a championship setting.

I figured I’d come out and give my time because I work with people who give their time to us in The First Tee program, said McCabe, 42, of South Brunswick, N.J. I’ve never done this before, so I’m sure I’ll learn some things I can pass along to our kids.

McCabe has used the championship to sharpen his skills and to enhance his knowledge in numerous tournament roles. During stroke-play qualifying on Sunday, he served as a forecaddie on the first hole. In Thursday’s championship match, he will return to Hollywood Golf Club to work either as a walking scorer or standard bearer.

Helping here this week is more experience under my belt, he said. I always talk to our kids about giving back to the community, so this week, I’m also getting that opportunity.

The First Tee Raritan Valley program currently has more than 500 junior golfers from Central New Jersey. Youngsters ages 5-17 learn the fundamentals, Rules and values of the game and have opportunities to participate in area and regional events, sometimes as players and often as volunteers.

McCabe says his First Tee participants will be involved in various volunteer roles at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open Championship at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., but before the Women’s Open comes to the Garden State, he plans to provide them with a variety of experiences in a tournament setting.

He hopes to increase the number of girls in the program, as well as teach children the value of golf as a physical activity. McCabe says getting kids outdoors and keeping them active is a part of the program’s focus.

We try to teach the kids that golf is something they can do for a lifetime, he said.

McCabe says the nearly one-hour drive to get to the course each day has been worth the effort. His program will also benefit from the range balls used this week. Following the championship, the practice balls will be donated to The First Tee Raritan Valley and to LPGA-USGA Girls Golf of Greater Newark (N.J.) at Galloping Hill Golf Course in Kenilworth, N.J.

Titleist has been very generous with golf balls at our events, said Joe Sprague, USGA Director of Regional Affairs for the Northeast Region. These balls are being used by accomplished players, so they are still in great shape. The programs are very appreciative to receive them.

Sprague noted that Titleist donates practice balls from each of the USGA’s championships. At the conclusion of each championship, balls are donated to junior programs in the area and/or to area military golf programs.

Approximately 1,000 dozen golf balls from this week’s championship will benefit New Jersey junior golfers, which is incentive for McCabe to keep carrying the standard, not only at this week’s U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, but next year, as well.

Markle Breaks Through

Kareen Markle had never advanced past the Round of 32 in a USGA championship. She got over that hump Tuesday at the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship at Hollywood Golf Club, and on Wednesday morning moved another step closer to her first national championship.

Markle, 52, of Meridian, Idaho, took advantage of a hot putter en route to a decisive 7-and-6 victory over Susan West in the quarterfinals. She faces Joan Higgins in an afternoon semifinal match.

Her breakthrough is not an accident, but more a story of perseverance.

"I made a commitment about two or three years ago to put everything I have into this, because I want to win a national championship," she said. "I've worked my buns off -- lifting, conditioning, practicing, just doing everything I can -- and it's nice for some of that to pay off."

Markle, who has competed in 22 USGA championships, including six USGA Women’s State Team Championships, serves as a volunteer golf coach at Mountain View High School when she has free time from her job as a nurse.

Markle coaches a lot of kids who have no experience in the game. That resonates, as she didn’t swing a club until she was 17, soon after a golf course was built near her home.

Working with kids has improved Markle’s game and outlook, as she still feels she is making up for lost time on the course.

"As crazy as it might sound, I still think of myself as kind of a baby at golf," she said. "I'm still learning things and trying to get better to win a championship before I get too old."

At 52, Markle figures to have more opportunities at the Senior Women’s Amateur. Sitting just two match-play victories away, the wait could be a short one.

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites. Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at jflyntz@usga.org.