Story Links

April 6, 2001

AP Sports Writer

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – They pressed against the ropes, wearing Masters hats ofall different colors, each with the name “Driscoll” specially embroidered inyellow on the back.

This roving crew of 30, maybe 40, friends, siblings, cousins and parents of23-year-old amateur James Driscoll – the James Gang, if you will – got a muchbetter show than they expected Thursday.

Helped by a chip-in for birdie from the bunker on No. 16, Driscoll shot4-under-par 68 to post the lowest first-round score by an amateur at theMasters since 1983. That put the U.S. Amateur runner-up squarely on theleaderboard, three strokes behind leader Chris DiMarco.

“It’s the best round I’ve ever seen an amateur play here,” said Driscoll’splaying partner, Tom Watson, who has seen plenty.

With his great round, Driscoll quickly found himself in the company ofSergio Garcia, Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar, all of whom have made their mark atAugusta as amateurs in the past decade.

But none of them have taken the place by quite as much surprise as thisformer University of Virginia star, who played a lot of soccer, hockey andbaseball as a kid, and didn’t really start paying attention to the Mastersuntil about 10 years ago.

Even the family was surprised.

“It was some of the most unbelievable golf I’ve seen him play,” saidDriscoll’s brother, Paul, one of seven kids in the Driscoll family.

The chip on 16 brought a jokingly nonchalant “Ho, hum,” from Watson as thetwo waited on the next tee box, Driscoll had done so much over the previousthree hours that Watson could have hardly been surprised anymore.

Driscoll saved par on No. 12, the heart of Amen Corner, with a 10-foot putt.He made a 5 footer on No. 18 to save another par and keep his wonderful roundin tact.

Before that, he birdied No. 9 by rolling a 25-footer downhill – the cupcollecting the ball and stopping it from sliding all the way down the deeplycontoured green. Earlier, there was a slippery 25-foot putt from the backfringe on No. 4 for birdie that sent caddie Marion Herrington jumping for joy.

Last week, Driscoll hired Herrington, a local looper, after learning he hadcarried for past champion Seve Ballesteros in the 1970s and 1980s.

“When I heard that, I was pretty much certain I was going to pick him up,”Driscoll said.

Going with a local guy is supposed to save youngsters like Driscoll strokes.Still, there remains a question as to exactly who is getting the better of thisdeal.

“Each day I caddie for him, he inspires me more and more,” Herringtonsaid. “I watch him and I’m like, `This kid’s got game.”‘

He showed it most of all on the greens, needing just 23 putts to get throughhis round, which matched the first-round score posted by James Hallett in 1983.

Driscoll was the only amateur to break par.

Greg Puga, the L.A. caddie who won the U.S. Mid-Amateur to make the Masters,shot 76, U.S. Amateur Public Links champ D.J. Trahan shot 78, Paired with TigerWoods, British Amateur champion Mikko Ilonen shot 72, Jeff Quinney, the ArizonaState player who beat Driscoll in a 39-hole final at the U.S. Amateur, shot 80.

Like many amateurs, Driscoll has been staying at “The Crow’s Nest,” thesmall dorm-like apartment situated above the clubhouse at Augusta National. Onthe night of the champion’s dinner, he left to see his family. He moveddownstairs quietly, hoping to stay out of the way of the luminaries in thedining room.

“As I turned the corner, Seve was walking right out,” Driscoll said,relaying his embarrassment. “I was like, `Oh, sorry.”‘

The surprises were just beginning.

One day, he walked out to practice and saw his name on the starter’s boardnext to Arnold Palmer’s. The next day, it was a trip around the hallowedgrounds with Jack Nicklaus.

Maybe that’s why a round with Watson didn’t jar him as much as he thought itmight.

“I was a little nervous, but I wasn’t nearly as nervous as I thought Iwould be,” he said. “I’ve been pretty calm in the practice rounds and Ithought all of a sudden Thursday morning, I was just going to be shaking.”

Then again, maybe the real pressure comes from performing in front of scoresof family members who spent their time and money to come down for the week -maybe the weekend, too – to watch Driscoll play.

“It can help or hurt, because if you are playing badly, you feel bad,” hesaid. “But if you’re playing well, there’s nothing better.”

Surely, the James Gang would agree.

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