When Livermore golf pro Andy Nisbet was first approached a few months ago by PGA officials regarding a new nationwide tournament idea for kids 13 and younger, he signed up thinking "it would be something fun for the kids to do."
Little did he know that his team — 13 East Bay boys ages 9 to 13 — would emerge as the country's first-ever 2012 PGA Junior League National champs and make golf-industry headlines.
"I knew we could win," said player Alex Chin, 13, an eighth-grader at Pleasanton Middle School. "We had a really good bond."
Nisbet, director of instruction at Las Positas Golf Course in Livermore, assembled his team from students at his GRIP Golf Academy, who hail from cities including Pleasanton, Fremont, Danville and Dublin.
With their parents, team captain Nisbet and assistant coach Tony Guerrero enthusiastically in tow, the kids played — and won — through eight local matches, Northern California play-offs, followed by regional tournaments in Los Angeles, where they played in blistering heat.
"I think it was 108 degrees," Chin said.
After winning matches at the local, area and regional levels, "Team California" won it all at nationals last month — the Junior PGA crown at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club in Lemont, Ill., outside Chicago.
These winning kids and coaches got a dose of media attention, as well, featured by NBC, the Golf Channel, Golf Week and PGA Magazine.
For player Chin, "the best part of winning was how happy everyone felt."
As for the media spotlight? That felt a little strange, he said.
Nisbet's team, in short, beat out 2,000 other players on 120 teams from states including Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Texas, Arizona, California.
But most impressive, he said, was the way his golfers related and played as a team in the scramble-format and came out winners.
"All the families are really close. We all had nicknames," Nisbet said. "We had a really good time."
Team California players include:
- Alex Chin, 13, Pleasanton;
- Brendan Hopkins, 13, Danville;
- Noah Woolsey, 13, Pleasanton;
- Travis Mitchell, 13, Alamo;
- Kirabo Reed, 13, Brentwood;
- Hayden Hui, 13, Dublin;
- Bradley Lu, 12, Monte Sereno;
- Alan Chen, 11, Fremont;
- Drew Kim, 9, Pleasanton;
- Michael Shaw, 10, Pleasanton;
- Jared Khoo, 11, Danville;
- Ethan Chen, 11, Fremont;
- Matt Lloyd, 13, San Jose.
"All these kids are really talented," Nisbet said. "I've been lucky to have them."
Nisbet initially jumped onboard the tournament offer not knowing how his players would stack up to other junior golfers nationwide.
"It just so happened," he said, "we stacked up pretty well."
The winners cup for the 2012 PGA Junior League Golf Championship is on display at the Las Positas Golf Course shop at 917 Clubhouse Drive in Livermore.
A video highlighting the Championship play and awards ceremonies can be viewed here.