The Golf Story of the Year 2019

by | Feb 3, 2020 | News

How the Par of the Year reshaped Amy Bockerstette’s Life

Amy Bockerstette drains the par of the year

On the day Amy Bockerstette silenced the loudest hole in golf in Phoenix, Joe Bockerstette was too focused on his daughter’s bunker play to be aware of the effect she was having.

As Amy sized up her second shot on the par-3 16th hole during a Waste Management Phoenix Open practice round earlier this year, Joe couldn’t help himself. He’s a warm and patient man, but after a single practice swing, he’d seen enough. He stopped parenting and started caddying.

“You need to take a harder swing,” he said. “The sand is fluffy!”

If Amy was rattled by the last-second encroachment, it didn’t show.

“I got this!” she yelled back, before delivering a short, punchy swing that splashed the ball out of the sand and over the edge of the bunker. The ball trundled onto the green, stopping 10 feet from the hole, its black Bridgestone logo specked with grains of white sand.

The crowd roared. Amy’s playing partners, including Gary Woodland and Matt Kuchar, looked stunned. Joe exhaled for what felt like the first time in an hour.
In an instant, Amy’s star was born.

In the Down syndrome community, there’s a popular aphorism for new parents: “Welcome to Holland.” It’s a nod to Emily Perl Kingsley’s essay, which likens the birth of a developmentally disabled child to accidentally arriving in Holland after a long-awaited trip to Italy.

“After you’ve been there for a while and catch your breath, you look around and begin to notice that Holland has windmills and tulips. But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, lovely things about Holland.”

It’s a feeling etched into Joe Bockerstette’s memory. In October 1998, he and his wife Jenny found themselves in Holland, parents to a newborn girl with Down syndrome. They named her Amy. Silently, Joe was heartbroken. A lifelong athlete, he’d dreamt of edifying a father-daughter relationship through sports.

“One of my strongest feelings was grieving over ‘I’ll never get to experience those sports moments with her,’ to teach her, to root for her,” Joe said in a phone interview. “There wasn’t a lot of optimism out there about having a child with Down syndrome.”

Everything changed in 2010, when shortly after moving his family to Scottsdale, Joe attended a yard sale. He bought a 7-iron from a junior set, which inspired him to take Amy to a driving range.

“I came home and told my wife, ‘This kid can play golf!’” Joe said. “She just picked up a club and could hit.”

A decade later, Amy Bockerstette is a decorated golfer — a scholarship athlete on the golf team at Paradise Valley Community College in Scottsdale. And her caddie?

“We’re partners in her round, and trust me, I cost her more shots than she does with decisions I make,” Joe said, laughing. “I’m in the arena with my daughter playing competitive sports, it’s a dad’s dream.”

In January, Joe and Amy were preparing for a tournament when a representative from the PGA Tour called. The Tour wanted to surprise Amy during a practice round by having her play a hole with 2018 WMPO champion Gary Woodland.

On the morning of the surprise, Joe was restless. Amy would be playing the famed 16th hole — the so-called “loudest hole in golf” — without a warm-up or a warning.

Pressure? What pressure? As the crowd fell silent, Amy stepped on to the tee box and took a smooth, unfaltering swing that landed in the bunker left of the green. As she prepared for her next shot shot, the fans quieted again, which led to her gem of a bunker shot and a high-five from Woodland.

Over her 10-footer for par, Amy had to quiet herself. She found her line, rocked back her putter and drained it.

Joe yelled, Woodland screamed, and the loudest hole in golf did what it does best.

The video of Amy’s viral moment has been viewed 43 million times, making it the most-watched video in PGA Tour history. Her popularity multiplied again in June, when Woodland credited Amy with sparking his victory at the U.S. Open. Joe says she’s recognized in the street “almost daily,” while she and Woodland talk every few weeks.

Joe and Jenny are weary of amplifying their daughter’s fame. They prepare for the future during the school year while Amy plays golf, attends classes and works a part-time job at TJ Maxx. For now, their preparations have taken the form of the I Got This foundation, whose mission is to raise money for and awareness of the intellectually disabled community in golf.

Amy’s loved ones have a hard time comprehending her accomplishments and her newfound viral fame. Two decades ago, her father mourned the loss of her sports career. Today, he’s her caddie, playing partner and spokesman.

Life with Amy has rarely gone according to plan, but perhaps that’s why it’s gone so right.

“It’s a great lesson in not putting limitations on your child,” Joe said. “Amy’s opened up more opportunities than we could ever imagine. She’s changed our lives completely, and all for the better.”

Welcome to Holland.