April 26, 2013

Bernstein Gives Back Through Golf

By Mike Humby                                                         

Yale junior Sam Bernstein developed his love for golf around age five, when his grandfather took him to a local course to hit balls.  After his father and younger brother also developed an interest in the sport, Bernstein realized that his love for the game provided a healthy way for his family to bond, and more importantly, to "give back" to the larger community. 

Bernstein grew up in New York City, where he attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School from pre-kindergarten through high school.  At Fieldston, he followed the required curriculum, taking courses in ethics and moral philosophy, along with participating in a variety of community service projects.   Bernstein said he was taught by some great teachers who helped him receive an excellent education and transformed him into a well-rounded person.

"One of the best things I learned at Fieldston was how to balance school, sports, and social life.  The work load there is very demanding.  You get a lot of work starting at a young age, so you have to learn how to manage your time,"  Bernstein said.

While in high school, Bernstein earned many championship titles competing in tournaments sponsored by both the American Junior Golf Association and the Independent School Golf Association. 

"I loved competing, I loved being under the gun, having to make putts under pressure.  That's what I found most enjoyable about the game," Bernstein said.   

 As a high school senior, Bernstein won the 2009 HP Junior Scholastic All-American Essay Contest, which changed the way the Silliman College resident viewed the sport.  His prize was a new Hewlett Packard computer, which was intended to go to Bernstein's high school.  Knowing that Fieldston already had the latest in classroom technology, he chose to donate the computer to the Promise Academy, a charter school serving inner-city children in Harlem.

When Bernstein went to deliver the computer, he met the school's principal and a few young students, who seemed to share his enthusiasm for golf.  However, coming from a lower socio-economic background, these students had never had the chance to even visit a golf course, let alone learn to play the game. 

Bernstein worked a few summers during high school for First Tee, a national organization that aims to teach both golf skills and life lessons to children with limited financial resources.  Based on the positive goals and success of that program, Bernstein rallied some of his golf buddies from Fieldston and arranged for the Harlem students to travel each week to Chelsea Piers in lower Manhattan, a multi-sports and recreational complex founded and operated by his father, Tom Bernstein.  With the Fieldston golfers as their mentors, the youngsters took to the driving range to hit some balls and learn some new skills.  

Bernstein's eagerness to teach and share his passion for golf was the beginning of the "Harlem Children's Zone Golf Program," a service project which still involves volunteers from Fieldston.  His goal was not just to teach these kids his favorite sport, but to make a greater impact on their young lives. 

"It is really important to expose another generation to the game, exposing a group of kids who might not have the opportunity to play golf.  But also, just spending time with the kids is a ton of fun.  It's been great for me, teaching the game of golf and seeing the excitement on their faces when they hit a good shot and accomplish their goals." 

As soon as he arrived at Yale, Bernstein had an immediate impact on the Bulldogs team but had to make some adjustments to playing college golf.  Always a fierce competitor, he worked hard to accomplish his personal goals but also had to learn the importance of team work.    

Bernstein won the Rookie of the Year Award in his freshman campaign and was recognized as a second team performer by the Ivy League. With improvements over that summer, he was selected to the first team All-Ivy as a sophomore and finished third overall at the Ivy League Championships. 

"Winning those awards was a great achievement and gave me the confidence that I could play at the college level.  It kept me focused and working  hard to pursue my goals, knowing that the hard work and long hours I was putting into my golf game were paying off."

Last fall, Bernstein raised his game to an even higher level, winning an individual medal at the 2012 Adams Cup.  In April, he helped the Bulldogs capture their fourth consecutive Princeton Invitational Championship. Their season will culminate in the Ivy Championship in Owings Mills, Md., this weekend.

Bernstein's many accomplishments don't go unnoticed by his supportive family.  His dad, Tom, was a '74 history major at Yale and graduated from Yale Law School in '77.   He now serves as Founder and President of Chelsea Piers.  His mother, Andi, received her degree in government from Princeton in 1980 and worked as Vice President at the Oxygen Network.

Bernstein has two younger siblings, a sister Lee, a sophomore at Brown University who played basketball, softball, and tennis in high school.  His  brother, Will, is a rising junior golfer at Fieldston who continues to oversee the Harlem Golf Zone Program and plans to continue his education and golf career at an Ivy League university in the future.

The political science major is unsure of his  post-graduation  plans,  but may consider entering  law school after getting a few years of  work experience under his belt.  Wherever the future takes him, Bernstein will continue his efforts to "give back to the game" by making golf more accessible to people of diverse backgrounds and different walks of life. 

Bernstein hopes others can reap the same benefits the game has offered him.  

"The game of golf has taught me so much more in terms of life lessons, like patience and good composure.  These are little things I've learned to take for granted, but that really define me as a person.  I'm not sure I would have developed these skills without the game of golf."

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