By: Priscilla A. Caballero
Everyone knows the Pure Insurance Championship is one of Pebble Beach’s biggest events impacting The First Tee and its participants since 2004, but do we really know what it's like playing and competing with the ‘Prince of Pebble Beach’—record five-time AT&T Pro-Am winner Mark O’Meara -- or what it's like being hosted by Mike Winer?
Surprisingly, one person that does know is 18-year-old talented golfer, Owen Avrit. Arroyo Grande’s Avrit began playing in tournaments since he was five, qualifying in events such as the U.S. Kids Junior World Championships and the Callaway Junior World Championships at seven years old. After qualifying for the 2018 Pure Insurance Championship last September, Owen Avrit had the opportunity of being hosted by Mike Winer.
Local Monterra resident, Mike Winer has been a board member of the Future Citizens Foundation for three years now and continues his involvement with The First Tee of Monterey County for the past eight to nine years. After being invited to play in the Nature Valley First Tee Open a few years ago, Winer realized there were young qualified participants in need of a place to stay for the week-long golf tournament.
“I've hosted First Tee kids in my home every year for the last seven years and I've always played in the First Tee Open tournaments as well,” Winer says. “The fun part was seeing the progress of the kids, hosting them at my home and seeing what great citizens they are. We've never had an issue with one of the kids, they are all just super kids. I just think, if the First Tee can produce kids like this then we have got to be doing something right.”
Mike Winer met Owen last year when hosting him for the week alongside his father last September. It was just a matter of luck and generosity that Owen received when crossing paths with Mike Winer.
“It was a really cool experience, such a fantastic host, couldn't have asked for a better welcoming home to stay in”, Avrit says. “It was more than just staying in his house, we stayed in contact throughout the week, we would go out to dinner together, treated like family, we stayed in touch ever since, I would say we have a pretty good relationship.”
Thanks to Mike Winer, and many other local residents, hundreds of participants in the past -like Owen - had the unique opportunity of continuing their dreams to play in the Pure Insurance Championship while staying in private homes.
Owen also had the incredible honor of meeting and being paired up with PGA tour player, Mark O’Meara who previously won the Junior Amateur tournament with Owen’s older brother, Jack Avrit two years prior. Unfortunately for Owen, it was on the first day of the tournament on September 25th, 2018 that O’Meara got injured and couldn't continue to compete.
“It was on the second hole of the first day of the tournament, he just made a weird swing with his driver and I could tell it kinda affected him a little but I didn't really know the extent of it,” Avrit sadly said.
O’Meara went through the majority of the round fighting along with painful back pain.
“I could tell he was hurting near the end of it and he came up to me as were walking on the 18th fairway and O’Meara said, ‘Dude if this were any regular tournament where I wasn't playing with you, I would have pulled out by now, I’m doing it for you,’” Avrit said.
For Avrit, those words meant the world especially because he felt just as bad.
“It was pretty tough, I was really looking forward to playing in it, especially since my brother won,” Avrit reflects. “I was really determined and it was really cool that I got to play with Mark. It was a heartbreaker for sure, he had to withdraw and I just know he felt so much worse, he's just a great guy.”
According to Avrit, the next morning O’Meara could barely even swing the club and claims the injury was due to a back spur on his back rib cage. Since O’ Meara could no longer swing, he had to pull out leaving Owen on his own during the second day.
“I had to shoot couple under or something here to try and make the cut on my own because we were five under on the first day and I think the cut was eventually eight under,” Avrit claims.
Despite his partner suffering the unfortunate accident, Owen Avrit decided to look at the brighter side of things. Although he didn't end up making the cut, Steve John, CEO of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, was able to make a nice surprise out of the situation. Steve John was able to put a smile on Avrit and help him get into Sunday's final round as a non-participant.
“At the end of the day, I got to play Pebble three times, hard to beat that,” Avrit said. “Steve John was able to pull some strings and got me into the very first group at Pebble on Sunday which was really cool.”
Mark O’Meara also put a smile on Avrit’s face the same day.
“The second day, when we were at Poppy, even after he pulled out, he drove around in a cart with his wife and followed me and helped me out,” Avrit said. “His caddy stuck with me throughout the whole day which was really cool.”
Mike Winer and Avrit have kept in touch since the Pure Insurance tournament was over. In fact, Winer caddied for Avrit during the 108th California State Amateur Championship at Monterey Peninsula Country Club this past June.
“Owen’s dad texted me I guess a month or two ago telling me both his kids, Jack and Owen qualified for the Championship at MPCC coming up in June,” Winer shared. “The day before, Owen’s dad texted me they were here and said the tournament starts on Monday. I said oh cool, by the way does Owen have a caddy? His dad said, ‘no he doesn't.’”
Avrit shot a 78 on Monday on the Shore Course during the Championship, following up with a score of 73 the Dunes Course the second day.
"MPCC is my home course and I've never seen the greens as quick as they were for teh Cal State Amateurs. Owen missed the cut by three or four shots but being able to just carry his bag and watch a really talented young golfer hit the ball 75 yards past wherever I would hit the ball, it's just fun to watch,” exclaims Winer.
Owen recently graduated from Arroyo Grande High School and signed his National Letter of Intent to Cal State University of Long Beach State back in November where he will play golf for the team in late August. Coincidentally, Mark O’ Meara was an alumni of Long Beach State and also played for their golf team.
The next step for Owen as for this summer consists of playing in several tournaments and practicing to keep up his game. Long Beach State’s team begins practicing on August 22nd, their first tournament will be held in September. Avrit will head to Long Beach in late August to begin this new chapter in his life.
As Mike Winer said, “it's not always going to be easy, you take what life gives you and just get up and do it again.”
“I dream to be one of the top players on the team coming to play in every tournament, that's my goal,” Avrit confidently added.