Bockerstette Takes on Scottsdale

Amy Bockerstette, Golfer with Down Syndrome, Masters Legendary Hole, Makes Huge Statement

It’s nice to have a friend with the perfect one-liner during those times in which we get above ourselves or think less of others.  They are especially helpful when we fall into the human trap of making assumptions based on ignorant perceptions. The friend to whom I refer once reminded me that “there isn’t a human being on the face of the earth who can’t teach us something.” Amy Bockerstette certainly taught the golf world something with a par on TPC Scottsdale’s wild and crazy 16, while playing with last year’s Phoenix Waste Management champion, Gary Woodland. As we drop old beliefs about Down Syndrome, we might as well stop boo-hooing about the limitations they suffer, because athletes with the condition are not wasting their time doing that. They are getting down to business.

Down Syndrome is a chromosomal condition that occurs in approximately one of eight hundred births in America. I grew up next door to a Down Syndrome child, and was told she would not live past her mid-twenties. I met her again two years ago. She has the fire for life, and is pushing sixty – and pushing hard. Down Syndrome is described as an “intellectual and physical impairment,” with a trend toward cognitive decline past middle age. There is an increased bent toward Alzheimers, but that isn’t what concerns us or Amy Bockerstette, who knew exactly what she was doing in Scottsdale.  Amy is, as far as I know, the first Down Syndrome golfer to attend college on a competitive golf scholarship. She qualified twice in high school for the state championship and entered Paradise Valley Community College by playing good golf. At Scottsdale, she put a second shot in the bunker, blasted out to a few feet from the pin, and coolly sank the putt. Gary Woodland was ecstatic. Reading about it, so was I, and despite the human penchant for quick and deficient conclusions, well-wishers were lined around the block, and on chat rooms online. Maybe there is hope for this species, after all.
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If we look around, Down Syndrome success stories are emerging everywhere, in all sorts of professions, including sports. The Special Olympics , just as the Olympics does, stands for a testing ground for personal bests, a festival of pushing one’s self to the next goal. No other goal is more important. A weight lifter from Delaware has reached the championship level. A Down Syndrome teen from Portland, Oregon has climbed Mt. Everest. I read of a parent with a Down Syndrome child who thought he was looking at grim, barren years ahead, until a Down Syndrome skier blew by him at near-Olympic speed.

Amy Bockerstette took on the same perils that we all take on when we play golf. After the errant shot into the bunker, the crowd tensed, not wanting to see a happy story spoiled. Admittedly a bit nervous, Amy didn’t fold to uneducated expectations. She summoned the same nerves good golfers are so often able to find, and instead told herself, “I’ve got this.” The lesson I learned from that is actually an old one that requires a reminder for all of us. Bockerstette responded as a golfer, not a Down Syndrome golfer. The qualifier can be dropped.

Early physical therapy for those with the condition is important for maximizing one’s potential in later years. I personally cannot think of a better place for a good physical, mental, and emotional experience than the golf course, and Amy Bockerstette confirms my point. It’s the best deal of all when someone is good for golf, and golf is good for them. It’s a game that discourages the presence of rancor and superficial judgment. There isn’t a type of human, whatever his or her personality, place in society, or condition, who cannot benefit from such an arrangement. Whether one hits 70 or 110 golf shots in a round, we get dozens of opportunities to hit the next one better than the last one, dozens on dozens of chances to say “I’ve got this,” no matter what else is working for or against me. Thanks, Amy, for the reminder.

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