2023 First Tee Scholar Stephen Ma reflects on his first semester of college

How long have you been in First Tee? 8+ years

How has the Scholar program positively impacted you since being selected for this year’s class?

The Scholar program has been an extension of my experience with the First Tee: I feel very supported. During our First Tee Scholars Pre-College Retreat, I learned advice from experts on how to acclimate and make an impact on campus. 

Besides bonding with the other Scholars who would be embarking on a similar adventure, I was surprised with college branded attire. Sporting my WashU shirt made me excited to begin school! 

Before I moved into my dorm, the Scholars program connected me with a mentor who works in St Louis. (I talk with her monthly and she assisted me with research for my Management 100 class case competition.)

I can’t wait to reunite with other Scholars at the Winter Workshop!

If someone had never heard about First Tee, what would you tell them?

Because I grew up with the First Tee, it’s a part of my identity. 

From First Tee, I learned life lessons and golf rules, experienced once-in-a-lifetime golf moments, received unparalleled support, and received advice from accomplished golfers.

Since I am the first in my family to play golf, I relied upon my First Tee coach and the Birdie Yardage Book to teach me golf rules. I had to learn them because when I was 10, I was called on for a false rule and accepted a one-stroke penalty. (After mastering the rules, I never lost a stroke due to my ignorance.)

More importantly, I learned to make friends older than me after hearing the “meeting and greeting” lesson. Because I was the only 5th grader to qualify for my middle school club golf team, I was hesitant at first to speak with my older (and taller) teammates. 

As I asked open ended questions, listened, and responded to their answers, it became easier to ask. Before the end of the season, these older golfers became my friends, and we still keep in touch (They even coined a nickname for me: “Ma man.”)

If it weren’t for First Tee, I would have missed out on my best life memories. With my coach’s encouragement, I applied for the national First Tee opportunity to play at Pebble Beach Golf Links as an eighth grader. 

First Tee also arranged for me to meet Jack Nicklaus – my role model ever since I wrote my fourth-grade book report on him.

I have been amazed by the unwavering support I’ve received from First Tee over the years. When the Ohio High School Athletic Association initially rejected my waiver request to play at the PURE Insurance Championship, my executive director advocated for me at the hearing. She also answered my questions for my 4-H research project and served as one of my college application recommenders. All of my First Tee coaches have been my greatest cheerleaders. 

Role models like them have inspired me to give back and help promote the game of golf. I volunteered as a golf coach for three First Tee summer camps and one winter session. Last summer I convinced my high school golf team co-captains to co-host “Pay It Forward” golf clinics to raise money to fund students to attend First Tee summer camps. This spring I posted my golf drill tips on social media as a virtual fundraiser. 

I’m grateful to the First Tee for nurturing me over the years and will continue to support it long after I graduate high school.

About First Tee College Scholarship Program

At First Tee, we believe that helping young people build strength of character is fundamental to success in life. Our active learning experiences are all about ensuring young people build inner strength, self-confidence and resilience, so when they face new challenges they are equipped to overcome them.

Going beyond our core programs, the enhanced First Tee College Scholarship Program is designed to provide further support, life skill development and mentorship of our alumni through their journey. Higher education continues to be a critical factor in unlocking opportunities for young people to thrive, and First Tee is committed to their success.

First Tee College Scholarship Program supports selected alumni throughout their college career. The need and merit-based program provides scholarships up to $5,000 per year, renewable for up to four years of college admission. The program also provides professional development workshops, access to internships and full-time employment placement post-graduation. One of the key factors of the program is pairing Scholars with a dedicated adult mentor who will help encourage and guide them throughout the four years.

The program is open to graduating high school seniors planning to attend college the following year. Applicants must be active members of First Tee chapters and will be considered based on financial need, academic performance, chapter involvement, volunteerism and other criteria.