Pierson Huyck calls it the best birthday present ever.
By the time he woke up on the morning of July 7, the day before he officially turned 12 years old, his father, Greg, had already taken the call from the USGA. Greg didn’t waste any time surprising his son with the great news: Pierson, the first alternate out of this summer’s lone Hawaii qualifier, had gotten into the U.S. Junior Amateur at Bandon Dunes.
It will not only mark Huyck’s first USGA championship start and maiden trip to the popular destination resort, but the Phoenix native will also be making history. At 12 years and 17 days old when he tees it up in Monday’s first round at Bandon Dunes (Bandon Trails will serve as the stroke-play co-host), Huyck will become the youngest player to compete in a U.S. Junior.
The previous record in 74 years of the championship’s existence was held by Matthew Pierce Jr., who was 12 years, two months and 15 days old in 2001.
“It’s cool to be the youngest kid,” Huyck said last week before flying to Oregon. “I’m excited for it. It’s going to be hard. Everybody says the wind is what makes it hard, so I just have to practice my wind shots.”
Huyck and his dad have spent recent weeks scouring the Big Island for the windiest, fescue-lined courses in preparation for Bandon’s coastal links-like test. It wasn’t a perfect simulation, but it does 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 couple of months there each year once Huyck and his older sister get done with school. That’s why Huyck was among the 25 competitors vying for one spot June 18 at Hualalai Golf Course in Kailua-Kona, where the PGA Tour Champions plays each year.
With his best friend, 10-year-old Blake Nakagawa (pictured below, far left) on the bag, Huyck, then still 11, shot 2-under 70 before losing in a playoff to Luciano Conlan.
“Blake was a big part of Pierson doing so well,” Greg Huyck said. “The two together were just fantastic out there.”
Unfortunately, Nakagawa won’t loop for Huyck at Bandon; he has his own big tournament to play: the U.S. Kids Golf World Championships at Pinehurst. Because parents are prohibited by the USGA from caddying in its junior events, Huyck will instead have family friend Dustin Brooks, whose two twin daughters play golf with Huyck, on his bag as Huyck, who will start sixth grade this fall at ASU Digital Prep, goes up against older, more seasoned players. Some of Huyck’s competitors are already in college, including Arizona State rising sophomore Jose Ballester, one of four 18-year-olds playing.
Despite the age gap, Huyck, who didn’t get an official handicap until about 10 months ago (he’s currently just tenths of a point from scratch), 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 2020 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National before the pandemic bumped that event to 2021; Huyck finished fourth in the boys 7-9 division, as a 10-year-old.
Huyck likely won’t appear the youngest competitor in Oregon. Unlike many junior players who experience their growth spurts in high school, Huyck is already 5-foot-7 and hits his driver between 260 and 270 yards. He’s had “very little” instruction, according to Greg, whose son has taken ownership of his swing, which has unsurprisingly evolved along with Pierson’s body.
“Pierson epitomizes that of a feel golfer,” Greg Huyck said. “He’d much rather focus on instinct, comfort and just being confident over the ball instead of mechanical types of movements, and if he goes awry, he wants to know how to fix it himself.”
It's been that way since Pierson, whose first love was tennis, was 5 years old and the driving range at Phoenix Country Club, where the Huycks are still members, caught his eye from the courts. Soon after that, Pierson gave up tennis for good to focus on golf – and motocross.
It's not uncommon for the young Huyck to spend some weekends on the track instead of 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.
“That’s a great diversion from golf because it’s so different,” said Huyck, who considers Rickie Fowler, another motocross fan, his favorite professional golfer. “It’s great a way to get your mind off golf and do something that’s an action sport.”
He saves his aggression for the golf course, however.
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 in less than a year.
“He knows what the risk of hurting himself 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 racing around."
On the track, there are riders of all speeds. From a golf sense, this week's field at Bandon, which is 264 players deep, is no different.
Ballester is one of four players ranked in the top 50 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Wenyi Ding, at No. 20, is the highest-ranked player, followed by incoming Texas freshman Christiaan Maas (25) and Tennessee signee Caleb Surratt (29), who owns seven straight top-10s in amateur events, including a win at the Terra Cotta Invitational and the last five as part of this summer's Elite Amateur Series. Reigning U.S. Junior champion Nick Dunlap is also in the field.
Though 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 debuts go, it doesn't get much better than doing so in a USGA championship.
Especially when you're already guaranteed to make history.