BOB WEST ON GOLF: Woodland turns U.S. Open into Amy’s story
Published 2:15 pm Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Though history will indicate Gary Woodland won the U.S. Open on June 16, 2019, his impressive victory at Pebble Beach actually was sealed back in January at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. That’s when he and Amy Bockerstette became a true dynamic duo.
Those of you who watched Sunday’s final-round telecast are no doubt aware of who Amy is and why she was such an inspiration to Woodland. If you didn’t see the video Fox played several times, Google “Gary Woodland Amy Bockerstette.” And grab something to wipe away a tear or two.
The 20-year-old Bockerstette has Down syndrome. Through a partnership of the PGA Tour and Special Olympics, she was selected to play the par 3, 16th hole with Woodland in a practice round at TPC Scottsdale two days before the Phoenix Open.
What followed was mind-boggling. Amy drove the ball into a bunker, then resisted Woodland’s offer to take the ball out of the sand for her. “No, I got this,” she firmly told him. Amy then chipped the ball out of the bunker to 12 feet and holed the putt as thousands of onlookers roared.
Woodland, as you may have read by now, was thinking of his new best friend Amy when the going got tough Sunday. The impact she made on him, the happy birthday singing video she sent to him, her determination to overcome, played in his mind during the final round.
“I thought of Amy saying ‘I got this, I got this,’ ” Woodland said in his post tourney press conference. I told myself that a million times today.”
As soon as the press conference ended, Woodland could be seen face timing with Amy and telling her how much she meant in him becoming a U.S. Open champion.
“I used your positive energy,” he told her. “You were awesome.”
Amazingly, I am able add a bit of a local spin to this beautiful story. My youngest son, Grayson, and I played in Golfweek magazine’s Father-Son Open Saturday and Sunday in Palm Coast, Florida. Imagine our surprise to see Amy, her dad and her mother starting on the same hole Saturday morning as we were.
Dad Joe was there to be honored by Golfweek as its Father of the Year at a post-round banquet. The golf-loving Bockerstette’s were not about to pass up a chance to play Jack Nicklaus’ spectacular Ocean Course at Hammock Beach.
Later, we would see the above-mentioned video, hear Joe’s wife give a moving talk of his role in Amy’s golf and hear Amy talk about her dad. When she was done, I turned to Grayson and told him the Open was over, that there was no way Gary Woodland could be beaten with all the love and karma in play.
After the banquet, we learned Amy tweeted three words to Woodland before his third round — “You got this.”
During his press conference Woodland said, “Amy meant everything to me from a mental standpoint. The world needs more of her in it. Her attitude, her love for life, her love for the game and her positive energy is so contagious.”
In 50 years of writing sports, I’ve been around some really sweet, emotional, heart-rending stories. It would be tough to think of a better one, although Amy and Gary are probably a tossup with David Hanchett, the Lincoln football player who suffered a paralyzing football injury in 1975, and Bum Phillips.
Bum, as the first-year head coach of the Houston Oilers, saw to it that a steady stream of Oilers players stopped by to visit Hanchett at the Texas Institute of Research and Rehabilitation. Then, upon learning the Cleveland Browns were David’s favorite team, he arranged to have him taken to midfield for the coin toss when the Oilers played the Browns in the ’75 season finale.
It was a magical, unforgettable moment, much like the one Gary and Amy shared.
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