By: Chelsea Coleman
Could you imagine yourself as a 16-year-old golfer walking and playing with the number one golfer in the world? Grace Vaughan of The First Tee of Spartanburg and Cherokee Counties did just that.
However, the way Grace qualified to earn this prestigious spot is different than you might think.
She was one of 150 participants from The First Tee who entered the Wells Fargo Succeeding Together essay contest. As the grand prize winner, she was given the opportunity to travel to the 2015 Wells Fargo Championship to play golf in the Pro-Am with a PGA TOUR professional of her choice. [Read her grand prize-winning essay here]
Who did she pick? None other than the number one ranked golfer in the world: Rory McIlroy.
At age 3, Grace was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called hereditary spherocytosis, a genetic condition that affects the red blood cells. It was that life challenge that Grace chose to write about in her contest essay. But that did not affect her at the Pro-Am round on May 13 in Charlotte.
“On May 13th my dreams came true. I was officially paired with world number one Rory McIlroy at the pairings party. I didn’t sleep at all that night, I was so nervous about meeting Rory and was wondering what he would be like. I was also worrying about playing in front of a huge crowd, I had never played in front of more than about 20 people before.
The morning of the big day I was full of emotions: I was super excited and super nervous. I barely ate breakfast and at lunch all I had was a strawberry and some watermelon in the clubhouse. Once I was done withlunch I was informed that “Mr. McIlroy is here, he’s on the range right now warming up” and I was escorted over to meet him. It was an unreal feeling when I first saw him, it felt like I was dreaming. We were introduced and all of my nervous feeling floated away, he was so genuinely nice and humble, that made me feelcomfortable being around him. Then as I walked over to my own spot on the range to warm up I started hitting some of the best shots I have ever hit in my life! I was no longer nervous just so excited to enjoy what would be the best day of my life.
The first tee box was very crowded but I wasn’t nervous, because my whole family and many of my friends from my hometown of Chesnee, South Carolina were there to support me. I was introduced to the crowd in traditional tournament fashion. That’s when some of my nervousness came back so I teed up my ball, took a deep breath and hit my drive. The ball went better than I could have expected! The crowd started to cheer for me and Rory told me “nice shot Grace!” and just like that we were off.
One of my favorite parts of the day was when Rory and I were walking from one green to the next tee box and people were actually asking for MY autograph, I felt like I was in a dream! My brother was asked at one point to walk along with us inside the ropes. I was so impressed by the way Rory talked to him, like they had been friends for years.
Playing with Rory was a dream come true for me, the course we were playing was beautiful and I was playing the best I had ever played, every aspect of the day was perfect. Walking along and talking to Rory you would never expect him to be the number one golfer in the world because of how genuine and humble he is, but when he has a club in his hand you know why he’s number one.”