Paul Batura: Gary Woodland's U.S. Open victory was inspired by a woman with Down syndrome. Here's my question

Gary Woodland’s U.S. Open victory at the famed seaside Pebble Beach Golf Links in California on Sunday took most PGA watchers by surprise.

Most everyone that is except Amy Bockerstette, a Special Olympics golfer and student at Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix, Arizona.

With Woodland up two strokes going into Sunday’s final round, the 20-year-old Miss Bockerstette reached out on social media to encourage her best friend.


“You’ve got this @GaryWoodland!” she tweeted. Less than 24 hours later her words would prove prescient when the Kansas native lifted the tournament’s trophy in triumph.

But the sandy-blonde haired young woman is not just another star-struck fan following her favorite golfer on the PGA Tour. That’s because, in February, Miss Bockerstette was chosen to play a hole with Gary Woodland during a practice round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

It was a hole of golf the both of them would never forget – and an experience that inevitably shaped and prepared Woodland for the stress of this past weekend’s tournament.

With thousands of fans watching that day from the Phoenix grandstand alongside the par-3 16th hole, the young collegian drove her first shot into a sand bunker.

“I got this,” she can be heard quietly assuring herself. After calmly chipping her ball out of the trap and onto the green, Miss Bockerstette putted 8 feet for par.

Coverage of the entire episode quickly went viral, becoming the most-watched video in PGA history. To date, it’s been viewed over 20 million times.

Woodland, who played basketball at Washburn University in Topeka his freshman year before transferring to the University of Kansas to play golf, has enjoyed a steady, successful, workmanlike professional career.

But until Sunday, the NCAA basketball player-turned-golfer had never won any of the four major tournaments in his 12-year career. Going into this past weekend’s play, Woodland was 0 for 30 when previously competing at the most prestigious of golf’s annual events, including the Masters Tournament, The Open Championship, PGA Championship, and the U.S. Open.

Yet after playing with Amy in Phoenix, a tournament which he had won the previous year, Woodland was deeply touched by the young golfer’s grit and unflappable attitude. In many ways, Amy’s spirit of persistence renewed his own.

"I've done a lot of stuff being the defending champ, but that was by far the coolest thing that I got asked to do and something I'll never forget," Woodland reflected. "I told her (Amy) she was an inspiration to all of us and we can all learn from her ... And I told her she was a hero and to keep doing what she's doing because we're all going to be following her."

Of course, Gary Woodland’s admiration for Amy Bockerstette is understandable. After all, how could you not stand up and cheer for a young woman who has defied her disability and developed impressive golf (and piano) skills along the way?

Yet in the United States, by most estimates, nearly two-thirds of people like Amy who are given a pre-birth diagnosis of Down syndrome are never even given the chance to live, let alone play golf on one of the world’s largest stages.

The abortion debate continues to rage in America, a seemingly never-ending ideological divide now nearly a half-century old. Sadly, the controversy is often reduced to numbers – but it’s different, isn’t it, when the number has a name?

Aborting children simply because they have Down syndrome is now a topline topic in the ongoing ideological divide about life and the rights of pre-born children. Just last week the United States Supreme Court declined to review the constitutionality of a 2016 Indiana law that bans the practice. The Seventh Circuit struck the law down, blocking implementation of the legislation.

In addition to Indiana, four other states have banned eugenic abortions – Ohio, North Dakota, Louisiana and Kentucky.

Predictably, pro-abortion radicals object to any laws limiting unfettered access to terminating pre-born life – even a life as lovable as Amy Bockerstette

Following the viral moment in Phoenix, headlines suggested it was Woodland’s graciousness that brought Bockerstette joy – but it was actually the exact opposite. As somebody once said, spending time with a person with Down syndrome is like taking the scenic route on a trip. You see wonders that normal people miss.

Amy’s warm and endearing smile surely confirms the reflection of the highly-respected sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, who once observed, “I have worked with children with Down syndrome for several years, and I would say in general they are the happiest, most positive, upbeat human beings on this planet.”

Whenever I think of abortion – and especially the termination of children with a Down syndrome diagnosis, I am reminded of the poignant but chilling words of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier:

"For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'"

The abortion debate continues to rage in America, a seemingly never-ending ideological divide now nearly a half-century old. Sadly, the controversy is often reduced to numbers – but it’s different, isn’t it, when the number has a name?

The smiling, upbeat face of Amy Bockerstette is a reminder that while so much of the world puts a period at the end of a sentence discussing a Down syndrome diagnosis, it should instead put a comma.

That’s because people like Amy teach the rest of us about what really matters in life. Her triumph is a testimony to the indomitable human spirit and the inherent dignity and worth of every living soul.

Following Woodland’s U.S. Open victory on Sunday, the 35-year-old golfer Facetimed with Amy, and acknowledged that her signature phrase, “I got this!” helped juice his confidence throughout the final stretch.

“She's meant everything for me from a mental standpoint,” he said of Amy’s influence. “The world needs more of her in it. Her attitude, her love for life, love for the game and her positive energy is so contagious.”


Gary Woodland is exactly correct – the world would be a much gentler and more beautiful place if more people with Down syndrome were allowed to live and inspire the rest of us.

True strength in life often manifests quietly and humbly, characteristics the world unfortunately often overlooks. But not this past weekend at Pebble Beach where a gentle young woman’s spirit of persistence helped propel a PGA golfer’s rise to victory.