USGA CHAMPIONS
2-Time USGA Runner-up Driscoll Returns to Massachusetts Roots December 22, 2020 By Ron Driscoll, USGA

James Driscoll made more than 200 starts on the PGA Tour after finishing as the runner-up in the 2000 U.S. Amateur. (Ryan Young/PGA Tour)

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The teenage golfers heard their coach speak glowingly of the guy, and some had even heard their parents talk of the exploits of this long-ago hotshot who had recently shown up to help out as a volunteer assistant coach for the Brookline (Mass.) High School golf team.

Then the players watched during a team practice round as James Driscoll sent his tee shot soaring over a row of trees to within 20 feet of the hole on the uphill, par-4 11th hole at Robert T. Lynch Municipal Golf Course.

“Trust me, the kids had never seen anything like that,” said Brookline High coach Burt Skvirsky with a chuckle. “They were amazed at what he could do – and with such an easy, graceful swing.”

Driscoll, 43, won two state high school titles at Brookline, a Boston suburb, on the way to a career that includes runner-up finishes in two USGA championships and more than 200 starts in nine seasons on the PGA Tour. At a career crossroads in this year upended by a pandemic, a random conversation in his adopted hometown of Jupiter, Fla., spurred him into action.

“I was playing at a par-3 course down the street from me, and there was a rain delay,” said Driscoll. “The ranger, a retired police officer, talked about his experience coaching a local high school soccer team. The way he spoke about it was like putting the missing piece into a puzzle; it took me about three seconds to decide what I wanted to do this fall.”

Driscoll contacted Skvirsky the same day, and the groundwork was laid for him to help out at his alma mater, in what turned out to be a reduced competitive fall golf season in New England.

“When you think about how to give back, you want to do it as locally as possible, right?” said Driscoll. “I look back to when I was a kid, and my parents joined a country club so I could play. At that club, a few guys in their 30s who were great players took me under their wing. What did I do to deserve any of that? Nothing, but it was there for me and it helped me so much.”

Driscoll ruefully recalled failing to break 100 at a state high school sectional event in his freshman year, but with hard work and encouragement from those members at Charles River Country Club in nearby Newton, he went on to win a pair of state schoolboy titles. He added a state junior, two state amateurs, the Western Junior and a North & South Amateur title to his resume while going on to star at the University of Virginia, earning honorable-mention All-America honors three times.

“The highlight of my junior career was reaching the finals of the U.S. Junior, and the highlight of my amateur career was making the final of the U.S. Am,” said Driscoll, who lost to D. Scott Hailes, 1 up, in the 1995 Junior, and to Jeff Quinney in 39 holes in the 2000 U.S. Amateur final, still the longest match since 1950 in that championship. “Talk about near-misses, but still, totally best memories. Tiger [Woods, who is two years older] was setting the bar right in front of me. I looked forward to USGA events so much and I wanted to win one of them so badly.”

Brookline High recently produced another state high school champion, James Imai, who has competed in three USGA championships and is now a sophomore at Northwestern University. Current senior and team captain Mike Ford plans to play at Drew University in Madison, N.J., next year.

James Driscoll (foreground) returned to his roots as a volunteer assistant for the boys' golf team at Brookline (Mass.) High School. (Dave Ford)

“I felt bad that Mike didn’t get to compete in a Bay State League championship this year, or an MIAA state event,” said Driscoll of the season that included seven matches rather than the customary 18 or more. “The kids handled all of it so well; they did a really good job of staying positive and focusing only on what was possible.”

Skvirsky noted the influence of Driscoll, who introduced pre-round stretching to their regimen, on the team’s positivity.

“He loved playing with the kids, all levels of kids, not just the best players,” said Skvirsky, who taught two of Driscoll’s older brothers in grammar school and has been the varsity golf coach for four years. “If they were playing in threesomes, he would play a few holes with the first group, drop back to the second and then the third. He even offered to help with the JVs, but there just wasn’t enough time. He really wanted to give back to the program.”

After playing in close to 400 events and earning $6.6 million combined on the PGA Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour, Driscoll’s status as a past Korn Ferry champion affords him only one guaranteed start in 2021. In the meantime, he keeps his game sharp for PGA Tour Monday qualifying events by competing on the Minor League Golf Tour in Florida.

Driscoll has offered to critique swing videos that the Brookline players send him, and he hopes to rejoin them on the course when he returns home.

“A lot of the kids don’t really know how good they are; they’re just missing that little bit of motivation or technical guidance,” he said.

Spoken like someone who knows what a little encouragement can do for a budding golfer.

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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