Golf is the loneliest game--unless you're James Driscoll, of the
Brookline, Mass., Driscolls. Then your first Masters is an
eventful family affair, a weeklong love-in with backyard cookouts
accompanied by live music and so many loved ones crammed into a
rented three-story house that an inflatable air mattress winds up
in the formal dining room and a tent is pitched in the backyard.
The youngest of seven in a tightly knit Irish-Catholic family,
Driscoll, 23, earned his invitation to the Masters with a
runner-up finish at the 2000 U.S. Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club
in New Jersey. On the eve of that final match, a cousin chartered
a plane from Martha's Vineyard to import a raucous rooting
section, but that kind of support was only a prelude to the
Masters, at which the Driscoll clan cheered James on to one of
the week's most celebrated rounds, an opening 68. You had to go
back to Ken Venturi's 66 in 1956 to find a better first round by
an amateur. Driscoll came back to earth last Friday, missing the
cut by an agonizing stroke, but even if his Augusta experience
was cut short by a couple of days, he left with the kind of
memories that last a lifetime.
"Thursday was the greatest day ever," Driscoll says, laughing at
the sound of his own enthusiasm. "To have everyone there pulling
for me, to be able to share it with the family like that--it was
Everywhere you looked last week there was a block letter
DRISCOLL, either adorning Augusta National's scoreboards or
embroidered on the back of the hats that James's parents,
siblings, a couple of uncles, a half-dozen cousins and untold
hangers-on wore in the gallery. The connection between Driscoll's
stellar debut and his omnipresent family was inescapable. The
intensity and maturity he displayed last week owe much to a
smashmouth family ethos: The Driscoll house was full of jocks who
dabbled in sports, with enough success that five of the kids
played intercollegiate athletics. Only five years separate the
oldest four brothers--Rich (37), Tim (36), Bill (34) and Paul
(32)--and the hypercompetitive vibe was often expressed in family
games of street football or pond hockey. "We grew up playing
sports together," says Molly Driscoll, 27, the only girl in the
family, but one tough enough to have captained the 1994-95 Brown
hockey team. "Someone always ended up going home crying."
Though James was a standout Little League pitcher and captain of
his high school hockey team, his first love has always been golf.
He learned at the knee of Paul, the first Driscoll to be bitten
by the golf bug, and brother number five, John, who played No. 1
for Boston College. (John, Paul and James furthered their golf
education by caddying at the Country Club while in high school.)
When James was about nine, the Driscolls joined Newton Centre's
Charles River Country Club, an exacting Donald Ross layout known
for a membership brimming with low handicappers. By 13 James was
the club junior champion (joining Paul and John on the honor
board), and at 15 he took the stroke-play club championship--no
junior attached. By the summer of his 17th year James was the
second-ranked junior in the country, and that's when he made his
first cameo on the national stage, losing the final of the U.S.
Junior to Scott Hailes in a match that wasn't decided until the
final green. In the wake of that defeat the depth of his ambition
was revealed. He told Paul that the loss was especially painful
because he had hoped to become the first player to win the U.S.
Junior, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open. (Tiger Woods has since pulled
off that trifecta.)
Driscoll went on to have a solid but unspectacular career at
Virginia, then came into his own at the '00 Amateur. In the final
against Arizona State's Jeff Quinney, Driscoll came back from
dormie-3 to send the match to sudden death but lost to a 30-foot
birdie putt on the 39th hole. The invite to the Masters was a
decent consolation prize, even if it upset Driscoll's plans to
turn pro. There was never any doubt that the family would
accompany him to Augusta. "Part of what made the Amateur so
special was that we were all together that week," says Molly. "We
were treating the Masters like a big family party." Like every
Masters competitor, James was given eight badges, which took care
of the family, give or take a couple of spouses and friends. He
stayed in the Crow's Nest, atop the Augusta National clubhouse,
while the rest of the Driscolls crashed in a lovely antebellum
house in a quiet neighborhood five minutes' drive from the
For James the preparation for Augusta began in earnest around New
Year's, when he moved to Stuart, Fla., to work on his game, a
task made easier when Greg Norman allowed him to play and
practice at Medalist Golf Club, which the Shark designed with
Pete Dye. By far the most enjoyable practice came during the
three reconnaissance missions Driscoll made to Augusta National.
In February, Paul tagged along for a round, much to the dismay of
his jealous siblings. Their father, Richard, walked with the
boys, three Driscolls alone among the ghosts of Masters past. "It
was magical," says Richard, a retired banker.
Last Tuesday brought the most anticipated event of the trip to
Augusta. Weeks earlier James had written Jack Nicklaus, long a
Driscoll family icon, to arrange a practice round, with Norman
joining in. Rain that morning disrupted the practice-round
schedules, and it was beginning to look as if Nicklaus wasn't
going to come through when he materialized on the 1st tee. "I
think the magnitude of this week just hit me," John said. "Wow!
Each night in Augusta a different Driscoll sibling was
responsible for dinner. For Tuesday, Tim had hired a soul-food
joint to cater the meal: fried catfish, collared greens,
black-eyed peas, fried okra, the works. "All the things we ate
growing up in Brookline," said Bill, who was a member of the golf
team at Brown. Tim had even brought in a two-man band, which
pumped out bluesy background music in the backyard. As the night
wore on, the brothers broke out the cigars, and more than a few
adult beverages were consumed, but James abstained. He needed to
be clearheaded to make the most important decision of the week:
who would get to carry his bag in the next day's par-3
Driscoll still had not decided the next morning when he went for
a practice round with Seve Ballesteros, Lee Janzen and Bernhard
Langer. Eventually he copped out and let his siblings sort it
out. Tim got the honor in a game of rock-paper-scissors, and his
win was all the sweeter when, on the 1st tee, some guy named
Palmer joined the group.
James played well, and on the 9th and final green he posed for a
picture with Arnie. Counting Palmer and Paul Azinger, who had
hooked up with Driscoll's group on the back nine on Tuesday, in
two days James had played with men who had won 38 majors, and by
the eve of the tournament he was no longer an awestruck rookie.
"The nerves are gone," he said. "I'm ready to play."
This was obvious from the 1st hole on Thursday, when he stiffed a
sand wedge to eight feet and made birdie. On the par-5 2nd
Driscoll got up and down from 50 yards for another bird. In the
middle of the 3rd fairway is one of Augusta National's biggest
leader boards, and on it was DRISCOLL, next to a gaudy red 2.
James continued to set his gallery atwitter, rolling in a
30-foot snake on the 4th hole to go three under. By now the
brothers had their game faces on, too. One would crowd the ropes
to get a look at what club James had pulled, then flash fingers
to the others. On the 6th hole, a downhill par-3 with a nasty
back pin placement, James hit a towering tee shot to six feet,
bringing a smile and a shake of the head from playing partner Tom
Watson. James missed that putt but got his fourth birdie on the
9th hole, denting the back of the cup with a lightning-quick
25-footer. The 32 equaled the best front-nine score for the week
and was a record for an outgoing nine by an amateur.
The back nine began with a bogey, and it was a scramble from
there. James had gotten back to four under when he blew his drive
on the par-5 15th into the right rough, among the trees. Some 210
yards from the hole, over water, through a small gap in the
pines, James went for the green. Laying up is not the Driscoll
way. Last year Tim was playing in a member-member at Wannamoisett
Country Club, in Rumford, R.I., when he uncorked a wayward
approach at the par-4 14th. His ball settled on a patch of
exposed earth in the middle of a pond. Undeterred, Tim stripped
down to his boxers and, in his words, "swam a full-blown
freestyle medley" out to play his ball. This previously
unexplored portion of Wannamoisett is now known as Driscoll
Anyway, back at the 15th, James's five-iron shot got caught in
the breeze and trickled back into the pond. When he followed this
bogey by dumping his tee shot at 16 into the back bunker, it
looked as if he was on the verge of blowing up. So, of course, he
holed his impossible shot. With the pines still reverberating
from the thunderous cheers, James's dad shook his hands as if he
had just singed his fingertips. "If my cardiologist knew what I
was going through," Richard said, "he'd have put me in the
hospital. Jeepers creepers, this is too much."
James parred in for his 68, of which Watson, in his 28th Masters
said, "This was the best round I've seen here by an amateur."
Driscoll was relaxed and understated in the glare of the
spotlight. Not so Tim and Rich, who crashed James's postround
press conference and offered quotes to every reporter in sight.
That night, while James lay low in the Crow's Nest, the family
flipped from channel to channel, watching the endless loops of
Friday brought the inevitable letdown, for all parties. "We're
all a little flat today, including James," Rich's wife, Jill,
said. Playing in the fourth-to-last group, on much firmer, faster
greens, James went out in 38, then chunked a chip and made bogey
at 10 to fall to one under. The tournament began slipping away at
the par-3 12th. Driscoll jacked his ball into a bush on the
hillside behind the green and made a double bogey. He was even
par for the tournament when he stepped to the tee of the par-4
17th but made another double there. Knowing he needed a birdie on
18 to make the cut, Driscoll burned the left side of the cup from
15 feet, then tapped in for par and a 78.
The clan gathered behind the 18th green, quiet and somber.
James's mother, RoseMary, would have none of it. "This wasn't
life or death," she said. "Even if he had shot 108, it would have
been a wonderful experience. He'll learn so much from this week."
Reflecting on the finish, James seemed to feel worse for his
family than for himself. "As great as it was to have everybody
here on Thursday, it was just as bad on Friday," he said. "I
could see in their faces how badly they were hurting for me."
James finished five shots better than the next amateur, Mikko
Ilonen of Finland, but because he failed to make the cut, he
didn't receive the silver cup for low amateur. There will be
other baubles. Driscoll recently decided to hold off on turning
pro through the end of the summer, in hopes of making one more
run at the U.S. Amateur and earning a spot on the Walker Cup
team. Wherever golf takes him, expect James Driscoll to have a
large, loving crowd cheering him on.
"This was the best round I've seen here by an amateur."