Pierson Huyck calls it the best birthday present ever.
By the time he woke up on the morning of July 7, the eve of his official 12th birthday, his father, Greg, had already taken the call from the USGA. Greg wasted no time in surprising his son with the good news: Pierson, the first substitute for Hawaii’s only qualifier this summer, had joined the US Junior Amateur at Bandon Dunes.
This will not only mark Huyck’s first start to the USGA Championship and his first trip to the popular resort town, but the Phoenix native will also make history. At 12 years and 17 days old when he plays Monday’s first round at Bandon Dunes (Bandon Trails will co-host stroke play), Huyck will become the youngest player to compete in a US Junior.
The previous record in the championship’s 74-year history was held by Matthew Pierce Jr., who was 12 years, two months and 15 days in 2001.
“It’s cool to be the youngest,” Huyck said last week before flying to Oregon. “I’m excited for this. It’s going to be hard. Everyone says the wind is what makes it difficult, so I just have to practice my wind strokes.
Huyck and his dad have spent the past few weeks scouring the Big Island in search of the windiest fescue-lined courses for the Bandon Coastal Links type test. It wasn’t a perfect simulation, but it beat Phoenix in July.
The Huycks have owned a summer home on the Kohala Coast, about 25 miles north of Kona, for nearly two decades and typically spend a few months there each year once Huyck and her older sister have completed their studies. That’s why Huyck was among 25 competitors vying for a spot June 18 at Hualalai Golf Course in Kailua-Kona, where PGA Tour champions play each year.
With his best friend, 10-year-old Blake Nakagawa (pictured below, far left) on the sack, Huyck, then still 11, shot 2-under 70 before losing in the playoffs to Luciano Conlan.
“Blake was a big part of Pierson doing so well,” Greg Huyck said. “The two together were just fantastic there.”
Unfortunately, Nakagawa won’t loop for Huyck in Bandon; he has his own big tournament to play: the United States World Children’s Golf Championships at Pinehurst. Because parents are banned by the USGA from caddying in his junior events, Huyck will instead have family friend Dustin Brooks, whose twin daughters play golf with Huyck, on his bag as Huyck, who will begin the sixth year this fall at ASU Digital Prep, competes against older and more seasoned gamers. Some of Huyck’s competitors are already in college, including Arizona State sophomore Jose Ballester, one of four 18-year-olds.
Despite the age gap, Huyck, who only got an official handicap about 10 months ago (he’s currently only a tenth of a point from zero), is aiming big.
“My main goal is to make the cut…and after that I think I have good confidence that I can do well in match play,” said Huyck, who also qualified for the national finals Drive, Chip and Putt 2020 at Augusta National before the pandemic pushed that event back to 2021; Huyck finished fourth in the boys division 7-9, at age 10.
Huyck likely won’t emerge as Oregon’s youngest contender. Unlike many junior players who go through their growth spurts in high school, Huyck is already 5-foot-7 and hits his driver from 260 to 270 yards. He received “very little” instruction, according to Greg, whose son took ownership of his swing, which unsurprisingly evolved with Pierson’s body.
“Pierson embodies that of a feeling golfer,” said Greg Huyck. “He much prefers to focus on instinct, comfort and confidence with the ball rather than mechanical types of movement, and if it goes wrong he wants to know how to fix it himself.”
It’s been that way since Pierson, whose first love was tennis, was 5 and the driving range of the Phoenix Country Club, of which the Huycks are still members, caught his eye from the courts. Soon after, Pierson gave up tennis for good to focus on golf and motocross.
It’s not uncommon for young Huyck to spend a few weekends on the track rather than the golf course. One of his favorite spots is north of Scottsdale near Grayhawk Golf Club, where the NCAA championships have been played each of the past two seasons.
“It’s a great diversion from golf because it’s so different,” said Huyck, who considers fellow motocross fan Rickie Fowler his favorite professional golfer. “It’s a great way to take your mind off golf and do something that’s an action sport.”
However, he keeps his aggressiveness for the golf course.
Besides Fowler, former NCAA Individual Champion and current Korn Ferry Tour member Braden Thornberry was another notable who also balanced golf and dirt bikes – that is, until Thornberry was in elementary school and broke his right tibia, right fibula and left forearm within a year. .
“He knows what the risk of injury would mean for his golf,” Greg said, “and to his credit, he’s really calculated and measured when it comes to getting on the track and running.”
On the track, there are runners of all speeds. From a golf perspective, this week’s course in Bandon, which has 264 players, is no different.
Ballester is one of four players ranked in the top 50 of the World Amateur Golf Rankings. Wenyi Ding, at No. 20, is the highest-ranked player, followed by Texas rookie Christiaan Maas (25) and Tennessee signee Caleb Surratt (29), who has seven consecutive top 10 finishes in amateur events, including a win at the Terra Cotta Invitational and the final five as part of this summer’s Elite Amateur Series. Reigning U.S. junior champion Nick Dunlap is also on the court.
While not uncommon for someone his age, Huyck is currently unranked in the WAGR, having never played a world ranked event before this week.
But as the debut goes, there’s nothing better than doing it in a USGA championship.
Especially when you are already guaranteed to make history.