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Queens native Xander McDonald-Smith blazes the pro golf trail

When he was a teenage mentor to children in the First Tee program at Eisenhower Park, Xander McDonald-Smith always taught that golf could really help a person go places. He is living proof, now that he is a pro playing on the PGA Latin America Tour.

McDonald-Smith, 23, of Rockaway Beach, earned his card in January with a flourish at the tour’s Q School in Bogota, Colombia. He was 3 under over his final seven holes, then won the last spot on the second hole of sudden death, sending him on his way to what he believes will be a career on the PGA Tour.

He joined the First Tee as a tribute to his late grandfather, John McDonald, a retired New York Police Department lieutenant and scratch golfer. McDonald-Smith studied under Nassau First Tee director Mike Wade, a relationship that still stands, the golfer’s mother, Anne-Marie, said. McDonald-Smith said in a Newsday interview seven years ago that he liked teaching the younger kids to face challenges. He is living that part now, too.

“The biggest challenge of all is the language barrier,” the Penn State graduate wrote in an email. “I don’t speak Spanish so it’s not that easy navigating around the middle of a small town in Guatemala.”

That wasn’t the half of it. He endured a traveler’s triple crown: He had his phone stolen, his credit card stolen and had to withdraw from his first event because of food poisoning.

“But while it’s a tough life, I love it,” he wrote. “I wouldn’t want to do anything else. And I really believe that with the right amount of hard work, experience and positive outlook I can make it on the PGA Tour.”

Father returns favor with ace

One of the best moments a club pro can have is to be there to see a student hit a hole-in-one — especially if the pupil happens to be his father. That is the gift that Ed Gottlieb, 64, of Smithtown gave to his son, Dan, 37, on a visit to his son’s home in Florida April 14. The elder Gottlieb aced the 163-yard 11th hole at Verandah Golf Club in Fort Myers with a 6-iron.

There was symmetry, Ed said, because he had seen his son’s one hole-in-one during a Kiwanis Club outing in Glen Cove 10 years ago.

They are a formidable team even when they aren’t shooting aces. Twice, they have won their flight at a national father/son tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C. They withstood an alternate shot match in which they spent the whole time exchanging “I’m sorries.” Ed said that the next year, they signed a contract, apologizing in advance for any poor shots, hugged “and played guilt-free.”

Volunteers needed for Barclays

The PGA Tour announced Friday that it is seeking 1,800 volunteers for The Barclays at Bethpage Black in August. Positions in 27 different categories are available for anyone 12 and older. There is a $75 fee (organizers of all tournaments have found that attendance rates fall when there is no financial commitment) but the benefits include a weeklong pass for the volunteer and one guest, a cap and shirt, lunch vouchers and an invitation to the Volunteer Appreciation Party. Visit and follow the link for “Volunteer.”

Self-driving carts

Self-driving golf carts are getting closer to reality, according to a report in the Golf Course Superintendents Association newsletter. A collaboration between MIT and the National Research Foundation of Singapore is testing the vehicles, which could bring about fewer crashes and damaging tire tracks, the story said.

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