Gary Woodland is the defending champion at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, but he was hardly the star of the tournament on Tuesday.
Woodland and Special Olympics golfer Amy Bockerstette starred in a PGA Tour video that went viral on Wednesday. In the widely circulated clip (1.5 million views and counting), Amy meets Woodland on the par-3 16th tee at TPC Scottsdale during Tuesday’s practice round. She plays the hole with Woodland and Matt Kuchar — “You can do this,” she told herself repeatedly — and ended up making par. Her tee shot found the bunker but she got up and down from a tricky spot, eventually draining her putt from about eight feet.
“It’s phenomenal,” Woodland said during his press conference on Wednesday. “I told her she was an inspiration to all of us and we can all learn from her. She was dealt with some serious issues and she’s overcome them and she is phenomenal. She was so sweet, she was so excited and happy and that’s something that we can all learn from. When things aren’t going our way we can definitely look back at her. And I told her she was a hero and to keep doing what she’s doing because we’re all going to be following her.”
But Bockerstette’s par on the 16th was no fluke. She qualified for the state tournament as a junior, and last year the Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor student signed a letter of intent to play golf at Paradise Valley Community College. She’s the first golfer with Down syndrome to do either.
When she first joined her high school team as a freshman her teammates affectionately called her “Sprinkles,” a nickname given to her after she ran through the sprinklers one day while trying to momentarily escape the Arizona heat.
At that time she was allowed to join the team and play a few holes here and there, but now she drives it nearly 200 yards. Last year she played in all but one match, solidifying the No. 3 spot on her team. Her best score was 46 and her season average was 48. She’s received lots of recognition and accolades along the way, but she’s never played on a stage as big as the 16th at the Stadium Course.
Woodland said he first heard about the meeting with Amy a week earlier. He received an email with her story and was all in.
“We get to do a lot of cool things,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of stuff being the defending champ, but that was by far the coolest thing that I got asked to do and something I’ll never forget.”
After Amy met Woodland’s group on the back tees of the 16th, they walked up to the forward tee for her. The crowd waved and she waved back.
“They love me,” she told her dad, Joe Bockerstette.
Her dad gave her a few words of encouragement on the tee — “You got this, kiddo,” he said — and she took a smooth swing with a wood. She made good contact and unleashed a massive grin as the crowd cheered her shot.
“We knew a 120-yard shot was a sweet spot for her,” Joe told AZ Central. “So we gave her one of her top clubs. We had a good feeling that she’d hit a good tee shot.”
Amy went into the bunker, and her dad said that was the shot that worried him the most. The sand the pros play from is fluffier than many courses. But it didn’t bother Amy, who knocked it to eight feet.
“Her dad was trying to help her and told her to swing harder,” Woodland said. “She told him she’s got it. She said, ‘Leave me alone, I got this figured out.’ So it was really, really cool.”
“After that, it’s just like, Man, it’s meant to be,” Joe said.
Kuchar’s caddie, John Wood, greeted Amy with a high-five when she walked onto the green.
“Amy, that was awesome!” Wood said. “Are you kidding me? That was fantastic!”
But she still had the putt, which she and Woodland looked at together.
“What do you think? Going a little left?” Woodland said.
“Why don’t you go ahead and make that?”
“Ok,” she answered, before rolling in the putt at the perfect speed.
“I’ve been blessed to do lot of cool things on the golf course but that is by far the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced,” Woodland said. “She was phenomenal. And then to step up in front of all the people and the crowd and everything and to hit the shots that she hit and made par, I never rooted so hard for somebody on a golf course and it was an emotional, emotional, really cool experience.”
Woodland said he hadn’t seen the clip circulating on social media yet, but admits it’s the most viral video he’s ever been involved in.
“It’s all about her,” he said. “It was really cool.”
"Amy … you're our hero."
How a superstar named Amy teamed up with @GaryWoodland to win the hearts of the 16th hole crowd @WMPhoenixOpen.#LiveUnderPar pic.twitter.com/iRhZbvdjuP
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 30, 2019