Story by Evan Oscherwitz
Over the course of her career, 22-year-old Amy Bockerstette has smashed through barriers even more forcefully than she smashes golf balls with her seven iron.
Even before she became a viral sensation at the 2019 Waste Management Open, Bockerstette showed immense promise as a golfer. She led Sandra Day O’Connor High School to state championship berths in 2017 and 2018 and made history by earning a scholarship to play at Paradise Valley Community College.
This weekend, Bockerstette will make history once again at the NJCAA Championships in Ormond Beach, Florida, by becoming the first athlete with Down Syndrome to compete for a national title in any sport.
She and her PVCC teammates will compete against the best teams in the nation in hopes of taking home the school’s first women’s golf championship.
“This is about the coolest thing ever,” Amy’s father Joe Bockerstette said. “It’s something that we hoped for, didn’t necessarily have an expectation of doing. It will be simultaneously great fun and great work.”
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While Bockerstette has received widespread attention and praise over the last two years, few could have foreseen her current success when she first began playing golf as a middle schooler.
It started out as little more than a way for Amy to spend time with her family, but her potential quickly revealed itself and before long she was taking lessons with a professional coach.
“I took her to a charity scramble between seventh and eighth grade,” Joe Bockerstette said. “She hit a couple shots in that scramble, and I came home and told my wife, ‘holy cow, this girl can actually play golf.’ With zero practice or lessons at that point she clearly had a natural knack for hitting a golf ball.”
With the help of her instructor, Amy starred for her eighth-grade club team and her game began to round into form. While she always had a desire to compete, her family had not considered the possibility that she might be able to play at the next level until her club coach offered to help pair her with a high school team.
“That was really a paradigm shift for us,” Joe Bockerstette said. “We were thinking of this more as a family sport, more for fun. I would like to tell you this whole thing has been well planned out, but it’s really come a stage at a time as we’ve learned more about her capabilities and how she fits into the bigger community.”
Amy rewarded her middle school coach’s vote of confidence with an excellent career at Sandra Day O’Connor High School in North Phoenix, where she was a three-year letterwoman and played in two state championship tournaments.
In 2018, she signed on to play at Paradise Valley after her father sent her high school tape to head coach Matt Keel. Upon meeting with Mr. Bockerstette and carefully looking over Amy’s high school statistics, Keel decided to bring her on board.
“Her dad had contacted me through email,” Keel said. “He asked if she could be part of the team in any fashion. Her scores at that point were already better than two of the players I had had that year, so I thought that she would be a good player to add to the team.”
Keel was immediately sold on Amy’s talent, but several kinks needed to be worked out in order for her to play. She needed a caddy, which was forbidden at the time, and she did not meet the minimum number of credit hours required for eligibility.
“Initially we had a lot of challenges that we had to overcome,” Keel said. “We overcame [the caddy issue] by hiring her dad as an assistant coach so he can take her around the golf course and line her up and tell her what shots to hit. I thought if we committed to her that we would work to get it finished.”
Just as she has done time and time again during her career, Bockerstette repaid her coaches for their commitment. Her scores have improved every single year since she arrived at Paradise Valley and her upbeat attitude has made her a vital component of the team.
Amy has cleared far more daunting obstacles in order to make it to the NJCAA Championships, but the four-day long tournament may prove to be a challenge in and of itself.
She will have to play on four consecutive days for the first time in her career, and the unforgiving humid conditions will make pushing her cart much more strenuous than normal. Even still, Bockerstette and her family intend to savor every moment of the competition.
“It’s going to be quite the challenge for her,” Joe Bockerstette said. “But we all agree we’re there to have fun. Amy loves rising to the moment and there’s so much support out there. She’ll do great.”
If Amy Bockerstette has proven anything over the course of her career, it is that she shines on big stages and does not back down from adversity. Her unwavering confidence has helped her win over the hearts of millions, and this weekend, it could help her win a national championship.
This weekend’s tournament will be her biggest, most grueling competition yet, but Bockerstette is ready for anything, and if her past accomplishments are anything to go by, she’s got this.