Why this self-taught 12-year-old is set to make golf history this week
Age, like par, is just a number.
That’s what people say, but it’s not true.
In golf, anyway, age matters plenty.
Just ask any member of the over-50 circuit, or the studs who peg it in the U.S. Mid-Am, which enforces an age minimum of 25.
Better yet, get a fresh perspective from Pierson Huyck, one of 264 players who’s in the mix this week at the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, at Bandon Dunes.
The event is reserved for golfers 18 and under.
Pierson meets that cut off by a mile.
He just turned 12, the youngest competitor in the 74-year history of the championship.
“I’m excited,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun trying to beat older kids.”
A soon-to-be sixth grader from Arizona, Pierson took up golf when he was four. Before that, his sport was tennis. But one afternoon, at Phoenix Country Club, where his family belongs, he set down his racket and slipped over to the range. Before long, he was smoothing shots. His swing came naturally. No one has meddled with it since.
“I don’t really take lessons or tips,” Pierson says. “I just try to teach myself from the mistakes I make with my swing.”
His ease with the game makes him different from his mother, Erika, and his older sister, Skylar, neither of whom plays. It also sets him apart from his father, Greg, a financial analyst who, like many golfers, has tried to improve at golf for years but has yet to crack the code.
“As someone who has worked hard to get better, one of the things that strikes me about Pierson is that he’s the epitome of a feel player,” Greg says. “Over the years, coaches and more mechanical players have tried to talk to him about the kinetic motion of the downswing or this or that. He just chuckles and goes back to what he’s doing.”
“I just like how relaxed and cool he is,” he says.
What Pierson does isn’t just golf. He has a robust collection of remote-control cars. On weekends, he rides dirt bikes, a favorite hobby that he shares with his favorite Tour pro, Rickie Fowler. The two have never met. Pierson hopes that changes.
On the course, Pierson strives for a similar demeanor. It helps that he is seasoned beyond his years. In 2021, he competed the Drive, Chip & Putt Finals, at Augusta National, one of many highlights of a junior career that began early in grade school on the U.S. Kids Golf circuit. In those events, his dad served as his caddie while working hard to keep a healthy distance. Nearly four years ago, Greg stopped joining Pierson on the greens, leaving his son to read his own chips and putts.
“It had come to that point where it was important for him to start taking more ownership of his game,” Greg says.
Pierson punched his ticket to the Junior Amateur by way of the Big Island of Hawaii, where the Huyck (pronounced hike) family spend their summers. In mid-June, with his close friend and fellow junior golfer Blake Nakagawa on his bag, Pierson shot a two-under 70 at Hualalai Golf Course, finishing as the first alternate for the U.S. Junior after losing in a playoff to 16-year-old Luciano Conlan for the lone qualifying spot.
On July 7, the day before his 12th birthday, Pierson got the celebratory news: a space had opened for him in the event.
Pierson has never been to Bandon Dunes.
“I hear it’s beautiful and really windy,” he says.
In preparation, he and his dad spent the past two weeks seeking out the windiest conditions they could find on the Big Island. That meant lots of golf on seaside Mauna Kea, and a few bonus rounds at Nanea, a blustery redoubt that, like Bandon Dunes, is fescue-fringed and was designed by David McLay Kidd.
Now, the Huyck family is headed up to Oregon. Pierson spent the weekend familiarizing himself with the humps and bumps of Bandon. The father of a fellow junior golfer will be on his bag.
The competition kicks off with two rounds of stroke play, on Monday and Tuesday, with the 64 lowest scores moving on to match play. The field is filled with accomplished juniors, every one of whom is older than Pierson. The average age is 16.8.
In school, math is Pierson’s favorite subject. He can do the numbers. He’ll have to post two good rounds to proceed to match play. He can hardly wait to see what happens.
Before he even tees off, he’s already set a record. All that’s left is to savor the experience.
“First thing is, I want to make the cut,” Pierson says. “And then we’ll see where it goes from there.”