Seventeen-year-old Stephany Barbosa, whose father left Mexico with a third-grade education to raise his family in the United States where he is now a naturalized citizen, is at Pebble Beach this week as one of the First Tee participants teeing it up in the PGA Tour Champions Pure Insurance Championship.
Four years ago, Barbosa’s brother Mariano – the first family member to graduate high school and now a junior college golfer in west Texas – played in the same event, spending the better part of a week playing alongside the Champions stars on the Monterey Peninsula.
Now, it’s his sister’s turn.
“I’m kind of nervous because it’s on TV but I’m really excited to play,” Barbosa said by phone recently.
It was a brilliant idea years ago to pair youngsters from First Tee programs around the country with Champions tour players. Putting them together at Pebble Beach, well, that’s a bucket list item for golfers of any age.
It wasn’t that long ago that Harold Varner III was one of the First Tee kids who earned a spot at Pebble Beach. Now he’s five years into his PGA Tour career. The First Tee initiative isn’t designed to create professional golfers. But it uses the game to build and mold young people and the list of success stories runs deep.
Barbosa’s story is inspiring. She doesn’t come from a golf background but now it’s a part of her family. Like their older brother, Stephany and her two younger siblings play out of the First Tee of Greater Dallas.
She brings a 0.8 handicap to Pebble Beach and Poppy Hills and she has won several events in the greater Dallas area.
“… she decided to take care of what she needed to do to get a good education and get what her parents don’t have.” – Katie Harris, The First Tee of Dallas
“At first I was on and off about golf,” Barbosa says. “I was doing it because my brother was doing it. I saw my brother get better and have some great experiences and do a lot of cool stuff.
“I figured if he could do it, so could I. It came kind of naturally to me.”
Mariano Barbosa, the father who works in the construction business, decided if his children were going to play golf, he needed to learn, too. Coming from a background more familiar with soccer and baseball, the elder Barbosa began reading and studying the game.
He began coaching his daughter, taking videos the two of them could study and build from.
“I learned more from him than from anybody,” Stephany says.
In her freshman year of high school, Barbosa fell into a group that led to some poor decisions. Her grades declined and she had to leave one of the top high schools in Dallas.
“She regrets it,” says Katie Harris, program administrator for the First Tee of Greater Dallas. “From there, she decided to take care of what she needed to do to get a good education and get what her parents don’t have.”
Harris was a high school educator for several years and came to the First Tee program after seeing what it can do for young people like Barbosa.
“Some of these kids can look you in the eye and say, ‘I’d be dead or in jail now if it weren’t for the First Tee,’” Harris says.
In Barbosa’s case, she made herself a scratch golfer while also resetting the priorities in her life.
“It changed not just my golf but it changed me as a person,” Barbosa says. “I grew up as the first generation here and my family didn’t really know golf.
“Being a girl and playing golf, I got so many great opportunities but my friends at school didn’t understand it. They thought golf was an old person’s game. But once they saw I was good at it, they respected me.”
Going to play Pebble Beach in a professional event is something few ever do. As a 17-year-old, Barbosa is in rare air and will see the experience differently than when she watched her brother play there four years ago when she was an eighth-grader thrilled to be in California.
“I didn’t realize then how privileged I was,” she says.
While other First Tee participants at Pebble Beach may see this as a gateway to a playing career, Barbosa isn’t looking at it that way. Though she has not completely ruled out playing college golf, she is not driven to play professionally.
“My direction is headed more toward going to college and studying accounting but I want golf to be in my life,” Barbosa says.
“We have some really nice private clubs in Dallas and we’ve been able to play some of them that we never thought we could play. It makes me look forward to sometime in the future having a good job and being able to give back to the First Tee for all it’s done for me.”
Stephany Barbosa, second from right, with other members of The First Tee of Dallas. Photo: Courtesy The First Tee of Dallas
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