Amy Bockerstette, who starred alongside Gary Woodland at TPC Scottsdale's 16th hole last year in a viral video moment, helps the reigning U.S. Open champion recognize what truly matters in life
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Winning a U.S. Open changed Gary Woodland’s life last year. However, that memorable victory just didn’t change it as much as meeting a young woman named Amy here a few months earlier during a Waste Management Phoenix Open practice round.
You surely remember the story and heartwarming video. Amy Bockerstette, who has Down syndrome, played the par-3 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale with Woodland and Matt Kuchar. She hit her tee shot into a greenside bunker, marveled at the wonder of the thousands of fans cheering her name, splashed a shot onto the green and when Woodland offered to help read her putt, she waved him away with three unforgettable words: “I got this.”
If you watch that video and don’t get tight in the chest or teary-eyed, your last name is probably Grinch. Amy became America’s sweetheart overnight, thanks to the viral video and the Internet.
“That might be the video of the decade,” said defending champion Rickie Fowler, who added that he hasn’t met Amy yet. “I watched that video so many times, it feels like it was two years ago. To have someone like Gary in that moment with her and to see how genuine it was, it was just so cool. She seems like a fun, special person.”
Amy is 21, plays on Paradise Valley Community College’s golf team, does some speaking engagements in the wake of her new-found fame, has appeared on the “Today” show and ESPN and started her own charity organization, the I Got This Foundation, to help others with special needs. The Phoenix Thunderbirds, the organization that runs the Phoenix Open, presented her with a $25,000 check for her foundation in a ceremony at the 16th hole Wednesday with Woodland. She got deafening cheers and a standing ovation.
“I asked Amy when we were walking in [through the tunnel beneath the stands] if she was nervous,” Woodland said. “She said, ‘I’m excited.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m nervous.’ There were a lot of people in there. The energy was amazing.”
Woodland won the WMPO in 2018. He plays this course well almost every year, it seems, and figures as one of the favorites this week. After The Amy Show last year, Woodland is everyone’s favorite. He gets recognized much more often and approached by fans far more often than ever.
Because he won the U.S. Open? Nope. Because he’s with Amy.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Woodland said. “Everywhere I go, I hear, ‘I got this.’ Adults come up to me crying because they’ve seen the video and they know somebody with Down syndome. To be part of that is amazing.”
Woodland told a story of a young fan who approached him in Hawaii earlier his year as he was signing autographs. The boy wanted to let Woodland know that he has special needs, like Amy, and tell him that seeing Amy’s video makes him believe he can be a normal kid.
“I got emotional there,” Woodland said, recalling the moment. He got emotional as he retold the anecdote to a small group of media in an interview room beneath the clubhouse. His face flushed and his voice had a brief, momentary hitch. “That’s what this is all about,” he said. “He says, ‘Normal kid.’ What’s normal? Happy, loving, caring – that’s what we all need to be.”
Woodland and Amy have been swept up into something that feels like a greater calling than golf. Amy’s message is a message of love. Woodland is a devoted believer in her message. That’s why he has stayed in contact with Amy and her family, who live in Phoenix.
“The impact she had on me that day was not only on me but on millions around the world,” Woodland said. “You’ve seen people who have been so impacted by the video and her attitude, her energy, her love. It’s so contagious, and the world needs a lot more of it.”
There were more eventful changes for Woodland last year. Shortly after he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach after surviving a challenge by No. 1-ranked Brooks Koepka, his wife, Gabby, gave birth to twin girls, Maddox and Lennox. The Woodlands already had a boy, Jaxson, from a previous difficult birth in which a second twin, a girl, didn’t survive. So, the Woodlands have a special feeling about the miracle of life.
Maybe that’s part of his connection with Amy. He understands better than most the precious nature of life. For the same reason, Woodland was hit hard by the death of basketball star Kobe Bryant, who perished with his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas, Calif.
Woodland didn’t know Bryant but was tied to him by basketball. The Kansas native played for Washburn University for one season. He decided to switch sports after an early non-conference game against nationally-ranked Kansas and realized that his on-court skills didn’t rank as high in basketball’s food chain as he’d thought. He transferred to Kansas to play college golf and launched his career. The rest is history, although at 35, he’s still making it.
Beyond basketball, Woodland relates to Bryant as a father and a traveling athlete.
“Look, Kobe shut the world down for a day; that was the impact he had,” Woodland said. “He’s one of those guys, I never met him, but I felt like I knew him. That’s the impact Amy has had, as well. It takes a special person for that.”
Woodland said Bryant looked happy and smiling whenever he was coaching his daughter in basketball.
“I want to be like him as a father,” Woodland said. “That’s the love and energy I want to have. It makes me sad that he and his daughter and seven others had their lives taken away too soon. I want to be there for my kids and not miss anything, because you never know.”
Bryant’s death underscored the unspoken fear that many athletes have, especially professional golfers who travel on a weekly basis, usually by air.
“It just makes you a little nervous that something can be taken away so quickly,” Woodland said.
Tuesday, Woodland brought Jaxson, 2, to TPC Scottsdale and walked with him on a golf course for the first time. He did it because of Bryant.
“You don’t know how much time we have,” he said.
Thanks in part to Amy, Woodland has refocused on what’s important to him.
“She’s had an impact on me that changed me in everyday life,” he said. “It’s having a positive attitude, loving people and staying in the moment. That will help you on and off the course. That’s the way I try to live now. I’m trying to instill that in my kids and my family, and that’s because of spending time with Amy.”
She attended Woodland’s press conference and joined him in front of the microphones at the end for a brief conversation. They agreed to play golf together soon. Amy also surprised Woodland with a small, gift-wrapped box. “Oh, thank you, you brought gifts,” Woodland told her. “That was nice of you.”
He opened the box to find a divot tool with an inscription: I got this.
“I love it,” Woodland told her. Amy smiled.
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