For some of us, golf is more than just a game. It’s more than simply swinging the sticks or making scratch marks on a scorecard. It’s more than chasing dimpled balls across freshly cut grass or trying to play at least one stroke better than your partner. No, for some, golf is a love affair that lasts a lifetime. Born and bred Idahoan, JJ Astorquia, is one of those folks.
Back when JJ was only about as tall as a nine iron, his grandparents introduced him to the game of golf. Little did the six-year old know that he’d been introduced to a sport that would have an extremely positive and long lasting influence on his life. All he knew was that—much like the average duffer’s drive—he was hooked.
“I just loved it,” says JJ, who’s now in his late 30s and is the Director of Operations for Columbia Mortgage in Boise.
JJ would go on to spend each summer for the rest of his youthful years having his parents, both teachers, drop him off as often as possible at the Twin Falls Municipal Golf Course. There, the junior golfer would drop his ball in the old plastic tube used as a starter and patiently await his turn to get partnered up and play. And as luck (and his passion for the game and warm personality) would have it, he just about always got paired up with fun playing partners.
“The people there were always really great to me,” JJ explains over lunch in the City of Trees. “You wind up meeting so many great people through golf. You really get a lot more out the game of golf than you realize.”
By his early teens, JJ was regularly playing in golf tournaments—and playing well. By the time he was 16, he was not only playing high school golf as a Twin Falls Bruin, he’d made the final cut to represent Idaho in the prestigious Junior America’s Cup (JAC).
Since 1959, the JAC has been pitting the best junior golfers from western Canada, the western U.S. and Mexico in a unique team format to find out who truly is the best in the West. The list of former players is as long and distinguished as a typical Phil Mickelson drive. “Lefty,” as he’s known, is a JAC alum, as are Fred Couples Corey Pavin, Anthony Kim and Tiger Woods, to name a few.
But that’s not the only thing JJ has in common with Tiger. He actually out-played the world’s most famous golfer during a round while they were both playing Pac-10 golf; Tiger at Stanford, JJ was an Oregon Duck. But that’s not JJ’s fondest golfing memory so far. Nor is the fact that he’s the only Oregon Duck golfer to ever earn Pac-10 All-Academic honors three times. Rather, his fondest memories from golf are much simpler.
“It’s the people. It’s the camaraderie. It’s the friendships. I loved playing high school and college golf because it’s a team sport,” says JJ, who’s still close friends with many of his former teammates and has friends working and playing at courses across the Gem State.
“Golf allows you to make lifelong connections. Most other sports aren’t like that. Other sports have physical demands that wear you down or ability differences that make playing together difficult. In golf, people of just about any age have the ability to learn and get better and the handicap system allows people of different abilities to enjoy a game together,” he explains, adding, “Everybody has at least one great shot a day that will bring them back to play again.”
The latest round in JJ’s love affair in golf took place this winter, when the Idaho Golf Association selected him to be the Tournament Chairman for this summer's JAC at Boise’s BanBury Golf Course (see sidebar). It’s the first time Idaho has hosted the event in almost two decades.
“It’s a great honor and a great event. Junior golf gave a lot to me, made a big difference in my life, and it’s time to give back,” explains JJ, who said former players like himself (JJ played on Idaho’s JAC team in both ‘91 and ’92) are helping out.
“You’re going to see the next Tiger or Phil Mickelson or Jason Gore. A handful of these kids will become pros. The others will become great doctors or writers or parents or great at whatever they decide to do because of what golf has taught them.
“Golf teaches you how to be a good person, to be honest, to follow the rules, to treat others with respect,” he says with a big, bespeckled smile. “You’re never going to have a perfect game. It’s not a game of perfection. It’s ultimately you against the course. Golf is all about how you react. It’s a great life lesson to learn.”
JJ with Arnold Palmer at the 1991 U.S. Jr. Amateur at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida
Photo: Courtesy JJ Astorquia