Amy Bockerstette is paying it forward
January 29, 2020
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
Gary Woodland and Amy Bockerstette | Paying it forward
It happens all the time. Even now, a year later, someone in the gallery will yell, “I got this” – just like Amy Bockerstette did that day -- before Gary Woodland hits a shot.
Or a fan, often on the verge of tears, will seek him out after a round to tell him about the confidence their child with special needs gained from watching Amy, who has Down syndrome, play – and par -- the famed 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale during last year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open pro-am.
"She's touched a lot of people,” says Woodland, who reunited with Amy on Wednesday. Their reunion comes a day after the PGA TOUR announced it had passed $3 billion in charitable giving. The money is key, of course, but it’s the people and stories that helped fuel such an amazing number. The Amy-Gary video a year ago was, of course, a perfect example.
“I was very fortunate to be there with her and experience that with her that day,” continued Woodland. “I have grown people come up and when I started talking to them, they start crying from that impact that I was there with her.
“I mean, I didn't do anything besides be supportive and have a great time with a special, special person. Amy's obviously had a huge impact on my life and it's nice to continue to stay in contact with her. The world needs more of Amy.”
That’s exactly what Ben Cole and Steve Anthony thought when they saw the now-famous video clip that went viral – it now has more than 44 million views and made the national news and ESPN – last year. The two were planning a golf tournament to raise money for Special Olympics in Fort Scott, Kansas.
“And so, Steve says to me, he goes, ‘you know how awesome it would be if we could get her to come to our tournament?’” Cole recalls. “I said, ‘Yeah, good luck with that. How will we ever pull that off?’”
Anthony went on Facebook and started corresponding with Amy’s mother, Jenny. But Fort Scott is 1,200 miles from Phoenix – about 18 ½ hours by car – and the distance was daunting. Could she at least send an autographed photo for a raffle, Anthony asked, and Jenny said, of course.
In the meantime, as Cole and Anthony spoke with potential tournament sponsors, they found one, a local printing company called Ward-Kraft, that had a private jet. The company offered to let the tournament use the plane to pick up the Bockerstette family after Amy played in the North American Special Olympic Games in Nashville, Tennessee.
When the plane landed in Fort Scott, a town of 7,000 that is 88 miles south of Kansas City, Amy was given the key to the city. Cole, who is the town’s Undersheriff gathered other law enforcement officers to witness Amy being sworn in as an honorary deputy, complete with her own badge.
People, many of whom were clients of the Tri Valley Development Services for people with developmental disabilities, were waiting at the airport with high-fives and signs to welcome her. A local car dealership gave the Bockerstettes an SUV to drive during their visit and the Sleep Inn offered them complimentary rooms for two nights.
“She’s basically an icon here,” Cole says with a chuckle. He had hot-pink t-shirts made for his foursome with the Special Olympics logo and Team Amy on the front and “#I Got This” on the back.
In part due to Amy’s participation, the second annual Golf Scramble to benefit Special Olympics Kansas sponsored by the Bourbon County Sheriff's Office was a huge success, raising just under $25,000. The previous year, the tournament had made $15,000.
“It was an awesome day,” Cole says. “I get goosebumps and you'll hear my voice started cracking every time I talk about it.”
Woodland donated a signed U.S. Open pin flag while his equipment sponsor, Wilson, offered a new set of irons for the raffle. Kansas City native Tom Watson sent memorabilia and Jack Nicklaus gave them a signed scorecard from the 1986 Masters. The resourceful Cole and Anthony bought a golf cart for $900 and had it professionally painted and outfitted with new tires and a battery – all donated -- for the raffle, too.
Amy, though, was the star of the event.
“She drove around and said hi to all the players and she'd stop and play a hole with them,” Cole says. “A lot of the players let her putt for them, or they'd say, ‘Hey Amy, you hit this shot for me.’”
And she’ll be back for the third annual event on Aug. 29. On New Year’s Day, Amy made a video saying how much she missed Fort Scott and that she was looking forward to the tournament. Cole posted it “to let everyone know that Amy’s coming back."
“The town has just erupted,” Cole says. Within two days after registration opened for the tournament, 60 teams – nearly double the previous year – had entered, including some from as far as three hours away.
“All of our golf friends and stuff are like, 'hey, I see that Amy's coming back, make sure I get in that golf tournament',” Cole says. “Don't forget me this year.”
He and Amy have stayed in touch since the tournament, much as the 21-year-old – who plays golf at Paradise Valley Junior College and is the first person with Down syndrome to receive an athletic scholarship – does with Woodland. Cole said he was immediately drawn to her. He and Anthony even attended her birthday party last October where the family launched the I Got This Foundation.
“That's just the type of person she is, I don't think she's ever met a stranger,” Cole says. “Yeah, I don't think she's ever met a stranger. And I think that we have something in common. She loves golf and we do, too. I just thought it was awesome that she went out on No. 16 and she was able to par it.
“I hadn't met her, but her outlook on life, her smiles, her waving to the crowd. I don't think it wouldn't have mattered if she would have birdied it or bogeyed it. She was having fun and her outlook on life is, 'I'm going to live my life to the fullest I can, regardless of what disabilities I have.'”