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Farmers Alford: Ryan Alford at Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines
Ryan Alford was granted a sponsor’s exemption into the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course. Alford is a product of the First Tee program, which also has an affiliate in Oceanside. Photo via PGA Tour
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At Farmers, Alford plants seed for future golfers

The world’s top golfers are prepped for the Farmers Insurance Open, with a field of competitors that rivals any major tournament.

While the sport’s biggest names aim for targets at the Torrey Pines Golf Course, my focus next week is on Ryan Alford.

That’s the way the great Lee Elder would have preferred it and I defer to the late, longtime Escondido legend when it comes to golf.

It’s because of Elder, and Charlie Sifford, that Tiger Woods had examples of Black players being represented on the Professional Golfers’ Association Tour.

Elder, who passed away in November at age 87, often attended the Farmers. He was honored at the Augusta National Golf Club last year for being the first Black to play in the Masters in 1975.

Sifford broke the PGA color barrier in the late 1950s, and he won twice on the PGA Tour, including the 1969 Los Angeles Open.

Woods’ way is well-chronicled, although a leg injury prevents his participation in the Farmers.

While Woods is absent, one is hard-pressed to visit Torrey Pines without reflecting on his remarkable success there, which includes winning the 2008 U.S. Open.

Alford said the efforts of Sifford, Elder and Woods aided him, and his colleague, Kamaiu Johnson, in gaining entrance into the $7.5 million event.

“I used to watch Tiger all the time as a kid, wearing his red shirt on the back 9 on a Sunday,’’ Alford said. “When I saw him do it, it meant anything was possible.’’

Alford and Johnson, members of the Advocates Professional Golf Association Tour, were granted sponsor exemptions into the Farmers. The APGA, which is backed by Farmers, helps to grow diversity in the game by removing the financial burden for players, and increasing their playing opportunities.

“It’s amazing what Farmers and the APGA Tour are doing to help all of us,” Alford said. “It’s a dream come true to play in the Farmers and I’m excited to hit that first shot.’’

It’s a path that others can follow, as Alford benefited from the First Tee youth golf program, which has an Oceanside branch.

It’s there that children and teenagers, regardless of their economic status, can discover golf, hone their academics and learn life lessons.

“It’s important that golf looks like the rest of society and that is what we are trying to do in getting more kids involved,’’ Alford said.

Alford, 25, was introduced to the game by his father, who taught youth golf in Shreveport, Louisiana.

The Pro Kids, First Tee program in Oceanside provides scholarships for nearly half of its members. Those taking swings include a large contingent of military family youngsters.

Along with Pro Kids, First Tee in San Diego, the two area branches have provided more than $2.5 million in financial aid to some of its 25,000 members who moved on to college.

Former Charger Ernie Wright started Pro Kids in 1994 with a group of community leaders who wanted to expand the game’s reach. Through golf, their goal was to help under-served youth form character and shine in school and life.

“Maybe if those kids see that I can do it, they will think they can too,’’ Alford said. “That’s how I was when I was in First Tee.’’

Kids like First Tee Oceanside’s Marlia, a fourth-grader with a big smile at Oceanside’s Reynolds Elementary School, and December’s member of the month. She’s an ace on the course and also embraces helping others with their homework.

Alford has grinded enough that he hopes to feel cozy at Torrey Pines. Among the locals he’s competing against are San Diego native Phil Mickelson, Xander Schauffele (San Diego State, Carmel Valley resident), Charley Hoffman (Poway HS), Pat Perez (Torrey Pines HS) and J.J. Spaun (SDSU).

Alford, a standout at Louisiana Tech University, won twice last year with a runner-up finish on the APGA Tour.

His go-to shot when talking to kids?

“Just continue to dream,’’ Alford stresses, “because anything is possible.”

Read more Sports Talk columns. Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] and follow him @jparis_sports