Living in the moment with Amy Bockerstette and Gary Woodland

Good Guys do finish first.
Good Guys do finish first. /

There’s really only one highlight you really need to see from this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. It involves a young woman by the name of Amy Bockerstette.

Eyes and cameras surround you. There is no hiding. There is no mulligan. There is only pressure. Of course, I’m talking about at the par-3 16th at TPC Scottsdale.

Grandstands surround the hole creating a 20,000-seat amphitheater. Even when half full, it is the most claustrophobic shot in golf. Perhaps the 17th at Sawgrass is the only comparison, but at Sawgrass it’s the hole that’s intimidating, not the fans.

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Under normal conditions, the 16th at TPC Scottsdale is a short iron for the pros – no water or OB near the green. It’s really quite innocuous. It should be a welcome breath before the last two closing holes that are fraught with danger.

As you well know, the 16th is anything but relaxing. Flubbing the 16th is a special kind of humiliation. Jeers rain down. Insults are hurled. If radio stations need 7-second delays for foul language, the 16th probably needs a 7-minute delay. There isn’t a longer walk in golf for a player who has hit a poor shot.

It can be the type of public flogging not seen since the Middle Ages.

Imagine – while you are thanking every God under the sun you don’t have to submit to that torture – defending champion Gary Woodland and his partner Matt Kuchar ask you to play the hole with them.

This is why they make Depends undergarments. Your breathing becomes labored, your vision tunnels into a pinprick of light. You feel light-headed, off balance. Few of us could function under such conditions.

All of this is what makes Amy Bockerstette even more remarkable. Amy is a Special Olympian golfer with Down Syndrome. Make no mistake, she’s got game. She’s even secured a college scholarship to play golf. But this isn’t a weekday school tournament with just a few parents and coaches watching. This is the most pressure-filled par 3 on Tour.

What Amy would do is now the stuff of legends.

So how did one of the best moments on Tour happen?

Amy was a guest of the tournament and got an inside-the-ropes experience. That alone would have made for a lifetime of memories for any golfer. As she stood off to the side of the tee with family and friends, Gary Woodland sauntered over and introduced himself.

Then, as if they were all just hanging out at the local Putt-Putt, Gary asked if Amy would like to walk the hole with him.

Amy Bockerstette gave a simple one-word answer, “Yes.”

But then, as Woodland and Kuchar were walking off the tee, Woodland casually asked Amy, “Do you want to hit a shot?”

What would you say? I’m not sure I could muster the confidence to accept the invitation. With two of the best players on tour watching, a crowd of thousands, no warm up, never having seen the hole before, … the excuses for demuring are countless.

Not Amy.

Again, she didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”

No quibbling, no nerves, no fear, no intimidation, just, “Yes.” And that’s when all our hearts took flight. You could feel yourself rooting for Amy like you’ve never rooted before.

“Please let her hit a good one.”

“Please let the crowd be well-behaved.”

“Please, please, please let this be a positive experience for her.”

Little did we know.

From her Dad lining her up and saying, “You got this, kiddo.” To Amy’s affirmative reply, “Yeah, I got this,” we all held our breath.

Then she executed a nice smooth swing and sent the ball on its way. Had it all ended there it would have been perfect. Woodland and Kuchar clapping and high-fiving, the crowd cheering, Amy aglow – it was a wonderful moment.

But it was just getting started.

Amy’s shot had run into the front right bunker. Now think about how intimidating that shot is! Seriously. Thousands of fans, two pros, cameras, family, friends – all watching you.

The lip on the trap was waist high, it was 50+ feet to the hole. A skulled shot would knock out the guy in the Big Bird suit in the stands and a chili-dip would cue a torrent of groans.

I’m sweating just thinking about it. But not Amy.

“You can do this. You can do this,” she encouraged herself.

It’s fair to say no one expected what happened next. Amy hit a low rolling sand shot dead at the flag. It rolled up to leave an 8-foot par putt.

That was when I felt myself rising out of my chair. Woodland was giggling with excitement, high-fiving Amy with a “That was awesome!” The fans let out a whoop. The dream was ascending to heights none could imagine.

At this point,  Woodland was swept up like the rest of us. Suddenly, the Tour Pro wasn’t playing the hole, he was caddying for Amy. He took her wedge and handed her the putter. “Let’s go putt. We’re gonna make this,” he encouraged her.

They walked onto the green to cheers. Kuchar’s caddy met her with a high-five and a “Are you kidding me? That was fantastic!”

Polite and utterly unruffled, Amy simply responded with a proud and smiling, “Thank you.”

As she stood over that 8-footer we all thought the same thing. “Can this really be happening? Is the universe capable of creating a moment of such pure joy?”

You know what I mean. You watch the news like everyone else. We’re all conditioned to think our culture, country and basic humanity is teetering like a Jenga tower. Good things just don’t happen in our world. It’s all doom and gloom. We don’t deserve a moment like this.

And then, like a bolt from above, we got it. Amy Bockerstette, with a gentle swing of her putter, cleared the decks of our collective disenchantment.

With that simple stroke, dead center in the cup, she showed the entire world, “You got this.” And, if only for a moment, we all believed she was right.

With all four Majors still ahead on the calendar and countless other possible miracles to play out on the Tour this year, I am sure – write it in stone – there won’t be another moment as good as this one.

Amy Bockerstette, you are not just an inspiration. You are a revelation. Your attitude, confidence, and ability to live in the moment have carried well beyond that par 3 in the Arizona desert. You have rekindled a flame. You are leading the way. You are the best of us.

Next. Waste Management Phoenix Open: Power ranking the top 10. dark

And almost none of it has to do with golf.