Barrier-breaking golfer to become 1st with Down syndrome to compete in a national college championship

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Amy Bockerstette has a knack for being first. 

As a junior in 2016, she became the first golfer with Down syndrome to qualify for the Arizona state high school tournament. After repeating the feat as a senior — when she finished 75th out of 225 entrants — she became the first person with Down syndrome to earn an athletic college scholarship, accepting a full ride to Phoenix's Paradise Valley Community College in 2018.

Next week, Bockerstette is slated to become the first athlete with Down syndrome to play in a national collegiate athletic championship. Now 22, she'll compete with her PVCC teammates at the NJCAA national championships in Ormond Beach, Florida, from May 10-13.

Bockerstette's breakthrough at TPC Scottsdale

It won't be her first time on a big stage. You may be familiar with Bockerstette's story thanks to a nice up-and-down at "the loudest hole in golf." She joined PGA Tour pro Gary Woodland on No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale ahead of the 2019 Phoenix Open. 

The par 3 is notorious for its rowdy patrons, many of whom were in the stands to watch her play. Her tee shot landed in a greenside bunker. But she hit the ball cleanly out of the sand within eight feet of the cup. She then sank the putt for a par save that pros playing that week would have surely been happy with, earning a hug from Woodland and a standing ovation from the crowd.

Woodland: 'Coolest thing I've ever experienced'

“I’ve been blessed to do lot of cool things on the golf course but that is by far the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced,” Woodland told reporters that day. “She was phenomenal. 

"And then to step up in front of all the people and the crowd and everything and to hit the shots that she hit and made par, I never rooted so hard for somebody on a golf course and it was an emotional, emotional really cool experience.”

In this Aug. 28, 2019, photo, Amy Bockerstette, who had Down syndrome, practices with her teaching pro at Palmbrook Country Club in Sun City, Ariz.  Parents of children with Down syndrome are often told what their children can't do. Joe and Jenny Bockerstette quickly realized all Amy could do. She had good hand-eye coordination. Perhaps more importantly, she had determination. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Amy Bockerstette gained viral fame in 2019 at TPC Scottsdale, but has been knocking down doors for years. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Bockerstette's drawn to sports

Bockerstette got her start in competitive golf with the Special Olympics and then as a freshman at Phoenix's Sandra Day O’Connor High School. She didn't play with the team that year, but joined varsity players on the course and occasionally played a hole, according to the Arizona Republic

She also swims, bowls and plays basketball, baseball and soccer, according to the Associated Press. She's attended the ESPYs and gave a 20-minute keynote address at the National Down Syndrome Congress in 2019.

“My superpower is confidence and believing in myself,” she said. “With your superpower, you can create your own purpose.”

Now, she's ready to break down another barrier.

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