PGA pros lend hand to Aspen Junior Golf
The Aspen Times
Ryan Hietala stared down the No. 1 fairway at the Aspen Golf Course, gazing into his past with an eye on the future.
Hietala, who grew up in Aspen, first stood on the No. 1 tee as the very first golfer to join the fledging Aspen Junior Golf program in the mid-1980s.
On Monday, Hietala stood on the No. 1 tee as the first PGA golf professional to come out of Aspen Junior Golf.
“It’s an honor to come back every year and see these kids,” Hietala said. “These kids are me 20 years ago.”
Hietala joined fellow PGA pros Chris DiMarco and DJ Trahan for a golf clinic at the Aspen Golf Course on Monday morning. The clinic preceded the annual Aspen Junior Golf High Country Shootout tournament, the major fundraiser for Aspen Junior Golf.
The PGA pros were auctioned as playing partners for the pro-am tournament. A silent auction and entry fees added to the annual benefit.
“I as fortunate enough to grow up here,” Hietala said. “I skied, and I played hockey. I sold newspapers …. everything,” he said of his childhood that included hawking the Aspen Times Weekly on the streets of downtown Aspen on Thursday afternoons.
“My parents played a little golf. We came out here (Aspen Golf Course), and I fell in love with golf,” he aid. “I was the very first in Aspen Junior Golf, back when Boyd Jeffries started it.”
Hietala said by the time he was ready for high school, he and his family knew his future was in the sport of golf.
That prompted a family move to Tucson, Ariz., where Hietala pursued what would become his vocation.
A standout career at Canyon Del Oro High School led to a college career at the University of Texas-El Paso.
Now, Hietala is a PGA professional based in Boise, Idaho.
“This brings back a lot of memories. I’ve been fortunate to be a pro for … 13 years,” he said, adding that he first came back to help the Aspen junior program in 2006.
“Alden (Richards) contacted me in 2006. I was at the Buick (Open). He invited me to come out and play in the High Country Shootout. I’ve been coming back every year. I really enjoy the clinic with Chris (DiMarco) and we try to get some other pros to join us.”
Hietala said coming back to Aspen and the Aspen Golf Course is a special treat.
“I made my first hole-in-one on No. 17,” said Hietala, who came back to Aspen in 1992 to win the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) national tournament here.
Hietala, who hit his first golf ball ever at the Aspen Golf Course, also had an ace on No. 14, during practice for the 1992 junior tournament.
But Hietala said Aspen Junior Golf is a lot more than just golf.
“What Aspen Junior Golf does more than anything, is it teaches kids to be adults on and off the golf course,” he said. “The integrity of the game teaches you how to conduct yourself.”
DiMarco reiterated the same message before he took to the driving range and the golf clinic.
“We all played junior golf. There’s a reason we are where we are,” said DiMarco, who has been helping Aspen Junior Golf for nearly a decade.
The pro from Florida is a three-time PGA winner with 12 second-place finishes and eight thirds.
“It all started in junior golf for us. Like my son, He’s 17, and he’s in junior golf,” DiMarco said.
“Golf teaches you to be a man or to be a woman,” he said. “Golf teaches you courtesy. I know that when my son is at the golf course, he’s not getting in trouble.”
DiMarco and his family first started coming to Aspen/Snowmass on ski trips in 1995.
“I got to meet Alden, and got involved with (Aspen Junior Golf),” he said. “I’ll always come back.”
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