When it comes to pro golfer Pat Perez, father Tony definitely knows best. The elder Perez was standing by when his talented son finally clenched his first PGA Tour victory in January at the 50th Bob Hope Classic. But long before that, Tony knew he had something special on his hands.

 

“He started when he was five,” explains Tony of his protégé son. “I was just learning to golf myself. He always liked to play ball. He had good eye-to-ball coordination and good balance.”

 

When the family moved from Arizona to Carlsbad, Tony and his sons (Pat’s younger brother Michael was also a natural) became involved with the San Diego Junior Golf Association. Pat, then eight, and his pops played every golf course in North County. “I relived my childhood with both my sons,” Tony reminisces fondly.

 

Tony, who hadn’t started golfing until his mid-20s, says Pat was trouncing him by age 12. “He started hitting the ball well and he had a better swing speed than I ever did.”

 

Alongside his son, Tony became more deeply involved in golf, starting as a scorekeeper and later becoming a tournament director. With all that time on the green — and with his boys — he couldn’t help but ­notice what a positive impact golf had on impressionable youth. So he started a nonprofit called Pins Pals Junior Links.

 

The after-school program serves underprivileged and minority kids ages seven to 17. Pin Pals partners with the American Golf Corporation, which manages several courses, so that kids can attend near their home turf. The programs are taught by PGA teaching professionals.

 

Tony has extended Pin Pals to include teachers (so that they can forge better relationships with their students), as well as wounded military veterans and their children.

 

“With golf, you don’t have to be big, or fast, or tall to play,” says Tony. “The kids learn etiquette and decision-making and they gain confidence.”

 

The objective, he says, is to get them through school, maybe even get them to college or give them a head start in the industry. “Golf opens a lot of doors,” says Tony.

 

It certainly did for Pat, who serves as the honorary chairman of Pin Pals Junior Links and hosts Tony’s annual Veteran’s Day fundraising tournament at Riverwalk (this year’s event is November 9). Tony says he couldn’t be any prouder of his son.

 

“I had a couple of dreams. I’m the starter for the Buick Invitational, announcing pros at the first tee. One dream was to announce Pat, which I had the privilege to do. I was choking and tears were coming out of my eyes. The second dream was watching the shot come in on 18 and watching him win his first tournament. It was perfect.”   ANNAMARIA STEPHENS