Minto Personifies The First Tee Values at Mid-Amateur
October 6, 2015 | Vero Beach, Fla.
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
When Rodean Minto first took up golf, he viewed it as a way to pass the time and stay out of trouble. It was a lot easier to find trouble in Bridgeport, Conn., than it was to master the intricacies of the game.
“With the way the city is, all the different gangs, if you get mixed up with the wrong person, anything could happen,” said Minto, who was new to this country, having emigrated from Jamaica at age 16. “My cousin and my future brother-in-law said, ‘Let’s play,’ and I just went with it. They were the only people I knew who played.”
Little did Minto know that the course where he first swung a club – Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, in neighboring Fairfield – would go on to become both his workplace and his competitive arena. “The Wheel,” as the course is affectionately known, also provided a supportive atmosphere for his quest to play in a USGA championship.
Minto began working at Fairchild Wheeler in 2005, and he has gradually advanced with The First Tee program to become a certified coach and program manager with the joint Metropolitan New York/Connecticut chapter that resides at the facility. Minto is one of six First Tee instructors at the course who teach golf skills to about 450 local youngsters, while also instilling the values inherent to the game.
“Last week I was in Cromwell [Conn.], for a continuing education unit,” said Minto. “We got to see the new curriculum they have put into place on a national level. At our location, it’s a little challenging sometimes to keep the older kids – we are always working to make it more age-appropriate and fun for the kids.”
Minto played for the golf team at Bassick High School in Bridgeport, then drifted away from the game for a few years. He returned in 2005, and began competing in Metropolitan Golf Association and Connecticut events a few years later. He shot his lowest competitive round, a 68, on Sept. 1 at Wampanoag Country Club in West Hartford, Conn., to gain entry into this week’s U.S. Mid-Amateur at John’s Island Club after trying to qualify eight times for four different USGA championships since 2012.
“The parents and the kids who know me wished me good luck,” said Minto after Saturday’s stroke-play round. “And the guys in the men’s club at Fairchild Wheeler wrote notes of best wishes and encouragement and put them all in an envelope.”
In between teaching his young charges, Minto hops the fence to attend classes at Sacred Heart University, where he is a junior and a marketing major, while also providing an embodiment of the values that The First Tee strives to instill in the youngsters who come to the program from the tough streets of Bridgeport.
“When I was younger, I was selective about who I mixed and mingled with,” said Minto. “I wasn’t friends with a lot of people. I was a big observer – I would stand to the side and watch a little bit and then say, OK, I can talk to this person and be a little closer to them. That way I wouldn’t get into trouble.”
Minto’s real-world experience dovetails with The First Tee rota that reinforces life skills, character, self-esteem and healthy choices.
“We see close to 1,000 kids each year, and about 450 of them are registered with the program,” said Minto. “We do a lot of outreach to let the kids know we’re here for them: after-school programs, Boys and Girls Clubs, youth centers. One of the challenges for us is that it’s tough for the kids to get to the golf course – depending on where they live in Bridgeport, it can take them more than hour to get here for a class that’s an hour and a half.”
The First Tee has provided incentive and inspiration for people such as Sonia Mendez, who earned the program’s national achievement award and went on to graduate from the University of Connecticut; Faith Garcia, who is a sophomore at Monmouth University in New Jersey, where she majors in accounting and is the top player on the women’s golf team; and Jacob Henny, who attended St. John’s in New York and has returned to Fairchild Wheeler to help out as a First Tee coach.
“Many of the kids who have gone through the program come back in the summer to help out at a camp,” said Minto. “We have six instructors in the spring and the fall, while in the summer, which is our busiest time, we have anywhere from 12 to 15 helping out, as well as some of our high school students volunteering with the younger ones.”
Minto wore his First Tee shirt on Saturday as he competed in stroke play. His rounds of 83-81 left him tied for 233rd with Brian Katrek of PGA Tour Radio, among others, in the field of 264. Despite missing the match-play cut, the experience left Minto hungry for more.
“I felt pretty calm; I wasn’t worried,” said Minto, who noted the difficulty of playing from the bermudagrass rough, a turf not found on Northeast courses. “It’s not as though I’m not capable of playing with these guys. I had one really bad hole, but that’s golf. One little error bites you in the butt really hard.”
The First Tee shirt was not the only representation of Minto’s avocation.
“I’m really proud of what I do,” he said. “I try to teach the kids the nine core values, and one of them is perseverance. Forget about it, keep going and don’t give up. Coming here and looking at the scoreboard, seeing the Jamaica flag, that means so much to know that I’m representing myself, my country, my family, The First Tee and Fairchild Wheeler. It goes a long way toward showing how I feel about being here.”
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.