Article by Mike Moraghan
Dick Driscoll lived for 87 years, and he had a lot of really good days.
Had he ever ranked them, surely the day he married RoseMary Shea, or any of the days one of their seven children were born would have been at or near the top of the list. Maybe all tied for first. Any big victory by one of his beloved Boston College teams might get some secondary consideration, as well as the best days in his professional life, 40 years as a Boston banker filled with countless successes, including the day he gave Billy Sullivan a loan to help launch the Boston Patriots as an American Football League franchise.
A graduate of BC and Harvard Business School who did a stint in the Marine Corps and served on countless charitable boards, Dick Driscoll found particular joy in watching his children excel – at pretty much everything they set their minds to. Big Tim was an ice hockey star at Princeton, and Molly, the lone daughter of the seven children, played both golf and hockey at Brown. The baby of the family, James also had a particular knack for golf, which he chose to pursue early on despite brother Billy’s best efforts to get him to swing a baseball bat instead of a driver.
Dick Driscoll followed all of his children’s exploits with a keen interest and a banker’s precision. Armed with a scorecard and a pencil he would document the vital statistics in each of James’ rounds. Check marks representing fairways hit, greens in regulation, putts taken, and sand saves made, were fundamental accounting to the business of his son’s golf, tallies which when totaled typically produced numbers to be envied by any golfer, and certainly any banker.
The Driscolls played at Charles River Country Club in Newton, where James was a focused and determined prodigy. He methodically marched through amateur tournaments claiming victories in the Massachusetts Junior, the Western Junior, the Massachusetts Amateur, the New England Amateur, the North and South at Pinehurst, and during an All-American career at the University of Virginia, the Golf Digest Intercollegiate in Las Vegas.
When he came close but didn’t win, it was usually because something unexpected happened, like Jeff Quinney dropping a 50-foot bomb on the 38th hole of the 2000 U.S. Amateur, another tournament James would surely have won if the 36-hole final had not been suspended for darkness the day before, shortly after James had rallied from 3-down to tie and seize all momentum.
As one thing leads to another in golf, reaching the U. S. Amateur final earned James an invitation to another significant championship the following April, and set up what was surely one of Dick Driscoll’s best days.
It wasn’t a typical Thursday, and it wasn’t just any golf course that Dick Driscoll would be walking around, scorecard and pencil in hand. This was Augusta National, and his youngest child, the baby boy, was paired with Shigeki Maruyama and Tom Watson in the first round of The Masters.
The gallery included fifty-some Bostonians. Every Driscoll brother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin, and friend who could wrangle a ticket made their way to Georgia to watch James play.
And the kid did not disappoint.
James birdied the first. Then he birdied the second and parred the third.
At the long par-3 fourth, James rifled an iron to the back edge of the green, some 30 feet past the hole. Like every green at Augusta, the 4th is treacherous. No doubt many in the gallery were hoping for a two-putt par, thinking let’s get out of here with a 3, and we’ll still be two-under after four.
His putt had too much pace. Halfway to the hole, the crowd was silent but for a quick intake of breath, the expectant hiss of many who foresaw the ball sliding well past the hole. But it was dead center. With three feet still to go the crowd’s fear turned to hopeful anticipation, then exhilaration when the ball struck the back of the hole and disappeared into the ground.
James Driscoll was laughing as the crowd roared, and Dick Driscoll managed a small smile as he marked a single check in the row labeled “putts.”
Steady and quiet play followed as the Driscoll patrons politely applauded par after par while elbowing their way around the manicured property. Theirs was a blend of the refined and the raucous, a crowd equally comfortable in a silent Boston Public Library or a boisterous Fenway Park.
At the corner of the dogleg on the par-4 ninth, a large, gap-toothed man stood grinning and talking with two women, his back to the fairway. Striding by, a Driscoll follower said, “Hey, Strahan, you should turn around and watch this Driscoll kid. And oh yeah, the Pats are gonna beat you this year.”
Michael Strahan, ignoring the suggestion, failed to see James birdie the hole and complete his front nine in 32.
Nowhere is the ebb and flow of crowd noise more stark than at Augusta National during The Masters. People walk quietly and whisper. Minutes pass as a barely audible breeze filters through the loblollies, and then suddenly a deafening roar from a thousand throats celebrates some miraculous shot.
One of those spontaneous ovations came at the par-3 16th. A wayward iron left James precariously stranded in the right, greenside bunker. No check mark for green in regulation on Dick Driscoll’s scorecard here. But also no worry or concern on the father’s face. No fear that his youngest child might skid the bunker shot across the slippery 16th green and into the pond that guarded the left side.
Complete silence but for a soft grinding sound as James dug his shoes into the sand, then the thump of his wedge dropping in just behind the ball. As it rolled toward the hole the crowd’s hum grew like the rumble of an approaching freight train. Then a celebration as explosive as any Yastrzemski homer or Brady touchdown.
There was still a joyful murmur wafting about the green as James reached into the hole to retrieve his golf ball. Then suddenly a burst of laughter from hundreds of spectators as one of the brothers – it was either Billy or Paul – yelled the name so loudly in celebration it could be heard from Magnolia Lane to Amen Corner.
Tom Watson said it was the best round by an amateur at Augusta he’d ever seen. With his 4-under par 68, James was tied for 7th and headed to Butler Cabin to be interviewed.
The afternoon complete, Dick Driscoll folded his scorecard and turned his attention to the next task at hand, finding a television for an important broadcast in the evening hours. It was the semifinals of the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championship and Boston College faced a tough opponent in Michigan.
We found a bar somewhere in Augusta that had the game on a big screen TV. BC jumped out to a 3-0 lead halfway through the 2nd period, only to see Michigan claw back and make it 3-2 early in the third. In that final period, every shift was a tense back and forth until with 20 seconds remaining, BC’s Ben Eaves clinched it with an empty netter.
As we walked out of the bar, I had to ask, “Well Dick, your boy shot 68 in the Masters and BC beat Michigan to reach the finals of the Frozen Four. What do you think? Pretty good day?”
Dick Driscoll smiled and said, “Could not have been better. Maybe one of the best days ever.”
James Driscoll’s golf coach at the University of Virginia, Mike Moraghan is in his 10th year as Executive Director of the Connecticut State Golf Association.