Golf
Josh Weinfuss, ESPN Staff Writer 41d

Amy Bockerstette's historic NJCAA golf national championship appearance comes to abrupt end

Golf, NCAA - Other

Amy Bockerstette's historic appearance at the NJCAA women's golf national championship came to an unexpected and early end Thursday when the final round was reduced to the top 15 teams and other golfers in the top 24 because of weather conditions.

Bockerstette, who's in her third season at Paradise Valley Community College in Arizona, became the first person with Down syndrome to play in a collegiate championship on any level this week when she teed off Monday in the first round at the Plantation Bay Golf and Country Club in Ormond Beach, Florida.

Playing through temperatures in the mid-80s to low 90s with high levels of humidity -- an unfamiliar feeling for someone coming from Arizona -- Bockerstette finished 108th out of 113 golfers, a win in the eyes of her parents, Joe and Jenny.

"Generally speaking, she hit the ball really well all week and hit very few poor shots," said Joe, who is also her caddie and blamed himself for costing Amy a handful of strokes throughout the week. "So, I'm thankful for the experience. It was a true test. It was a terrific venue and setup. I was just very, very happy with how she played."

From her initial front nine in the first round, when a gallery of about a dozen spectators followed her around the course, Bockerstette was something of a celebrity. Coaches wanted to meet her; entire teams wanted pictures with her; residents who lived on the golf course came out to talk with Amy and Joe about the course.

"People are just moved by her, and she loves people," Jenny told ESPN on Thursday. "So, she's very responsive to that and we're very touched by watching the effect that she has on other people. It's a really cool experience to be part of."

Amy enjoyed the interaction.

"I thought taking pictures and selfies was kind of fun," Amy told ESPN. "And we had a good time meeting everyone and taking pictures and selfies and autographs and having a good time."

As much as the attention energized Amy, who thrives on the interactions, Joe also could see her presence affecting others. One family brought their 12-year-old daughter who has Down syndrome to meet Amy, who spent time talking with her.

"Her story has meaning for different people in different ways," Joe said. "You had the opportunity to meet people; they all had their own story about what Amy has meant to them. They may have a relative with Down syndrome or maybe a golf story.

"The members all asked us what we thought of the course and how difficult it was, and we kind of had some laughs about how tough the greens are, so it was kind of a community experience where Amy, sort of, got to be the focal point for a bit. And the people were fantastic. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We feel very privileged to be a part of it and, and, you know, it just sort of has taken Amy's story to a new level."

Leading into and during the tournament, Amy was a popular subject of the national and local media, doing interviews with "NBC Nightly News," "CBS Evening News," the "Today" show and People.com and with local outlets. The initial plan was for media coverage to stop after Sunday's practice round, which saw a gallery follow Bockerstette around the course. But demand kept growing and her parents thought their 22-year-old daughter could handle the extra commitment, so Amy and Joe did interviews after Monday's and Tuesday's rounds.

"That was overwhelming," Jenny said. "We thought the attention might end after the competition started, and it just grew, and thankfully Joe and Amy were up to the challenge because it's not my favorite thing to do and Amy loves that.

"So, that was fun. And it was overwhelming. Did I say that already? I mean, God, I opened my phone, have all these notifications. There's no way that we could keep up with it. The thing I was trying to keep up with was just doing a post each night, and that was a struggle a little bit, so it was something else, to be honest. It was amazing."

Amy rose to fame in 2019 when she parred the famous 16th hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open during the Wednesday pro-am at the TPC Scottsdale while playing with PGA Tour stars Gary Woodland and Matt Kuchar. Since then, she has crisscrossed the country playing in various charity tournaments, speaking at events and establishing the I Got This Foundation, which helps promote "golf instruction and playing opportunities for people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities," according to its website.

The NJCAA nationals might have been her last college tournament. Her scholarship was extended a year because of the pandemic, Joe said, but the family will decide in the next month whether Amy will continue to play for PVCC.

As Joe said, "It's going to be hard to top this."

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