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Alan Shipnuck
April 16, 2001
Despite Missing The Cut, amateur James Driscoll had a week that he and his clan won't soon forget
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April 16, 2001

Family Style

Despite Missing The Cut, amateur James Driscoll had a week that he and his clan won't soon forget

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Golf is the loneliest game—I unless you're James Driscoll, of I 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 unbelievable."

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 course.

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! Jack Nicklaus."

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 tournament.

Driscoll still had not decided the next morning when he went for a practice round with Seve Ballesteros, Lee Janzen and Bern-hard 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.

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