By Vartan Kupelian
The legacy of Francis Ouimet isn’t lost on Ty Griggs. It makes the lucky penny once used by Ouimet to mark his golf ball, a coin now in Griggs’ possession, a special reminder.
Griggs, 13, is one of 80 competitors in Sunday's Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club. Watching him will be a large family contingent, including grandfather Tom Ouimette. Francis Ouimet was the son of Tom’s great-grandfather’s brother, which makes Ty a distant relative of the man who won the U.S. Open in 1913 as a 20-year-old amateur and changed the face of golf in America.
Also cheering for Griggs will be his sister, Madalyn, 11.
Madalyn suffers from a rare disorder known as mutated dopamine transmitter. Her condition is one of the nine cases researched worldwide, according to her father, John. Madalyn cannot speak and is confined to a wheelchair.
Ty Griggs’ favorite golfers are Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth, players who have won the previous two Masters Tournaments.
“It depends what day it is,” said Griggs, an eighth-grader at Neil Hafley Elementary School in Manteca, Calif. “If I’m hitting it long, it’s Bubba. If my chipping and putting are on that day, it’s Jordan.”
It’s also Spieth because of the relationship Spieth has with his sister, Ellie, who suffers from a neurological disorder on the autism spectrum. The heart-warming relationship between Jordan and Ellie has gained national prominence with Spieth’s soaring success.
“It’s really cool the way Spieth supports his sister with special needs,” Griggs said. “I have a sister with special needs. She can’t talk, but I’m pretty sure she knows when I’m playing golf. She goes to some of my golf tournaments when she can.”
Madalyn planned to attend Sunday’s DCP National Finals with the rest of the family.
“It’s something we’re really proud of, the kind of big brother he is,” John Griggs said. “He’s a terrific big brother. He’s always been a big help.”
Tom Ouimette has always known of the family connection to Francis. He explained the variation in spelling as a result of the translation from the French-Canadian version of the name. Tom and Francis never met. Tom was serving in the military at the time of the great golfer’s death in 1967 and was unable to attend the funeral.
Speaking of their remarkable family history in golf, the grandfather said Ty “understands how special something like that is,” but it wasn’t a deciding factor in Ty’s attraction to the game.
“He’s just a natural born golfer,” Tom Ouimette said.
"The drive down Magnolia Lane. It’s better than Disneyland." - Ty Griggs
Ty was 8 years old the first time he played a round of golf with his father, grandfather and uncles at Manteca Golf Course. The community of Manteca is about 60 miles east of the Bay Area.
“I think it was a sixsome,” he said, adding that he learned of his connection to Ouimet "the first time I ever played with my granddad" and went on to see ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played,’ a film version of Ouimet's historic U.S. Open victory.
Ty Griggs has Ouimet memorabilia from various members of the family. The treasured keepsakes include that special penny, which is back home in California for safe keeping, a Francis Ouimet stamp issued in 1988 and a player’s card of Ouimet, encased in plastic.
Ty’s handicap index is 1.5 and his best 18-hole score is 7-under. He watched the 2015 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals on television, vowing to make it to Augusta National this year. Now he is here and ready for a very special moment.
“Definitely,” he said. “The drive down Magnolia Lane. It’s better than Disneyland.”