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TRINITY, Texas – During a timeout between the first and second quarters of the Michigan-Michigan State football game at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan, James Piot stepped on to the field, waved to the crowd and received a standing ovation. In the aftermath of the Spartans’ victory in a come-from-behind thriller over its in-state rival on October 28, the fifth-year Michigan State senior was stopped on the street on more than one occasion by fans asking if he was the guy they’d seen on the Jumbotron.
“Yeah, yeah, I was on it,” Piot said nonchalantly.
“For what?” one of attendees at the game wondered.
“I won some golf tournament,” he said as if it was no big deal.
But Piot didn’t win just any golf tournament. It was the 121st U.S. Amateur, the most prestigious championship in amateur golf and one that earned him exemptions into the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in 2022.
Hoisting the Havemeyer Trophy in front of a stadium of more than 75,000 rabid fans was only part of a memorable day. First, Piot appeared on Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff pregame, chipping whiffle balls into trash cans against former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.
“I felt like a celebrity for a day,” Piot said last weekend at the Spirit International Amateur Championship, where he won gold and silver medals representing Team USA. “I walk around campus and people know who I am now. It’s pretty funny.”
It’s been a whirlwind 12 weeks for Piot, 22, ever since he rallied from 3 down with nine to play to beat University of North Carolina’s Austin Greaser, 2 and 1, in the 36-hole scheduled finale of the U.S. Amateur at Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“It’s really quite overwhelming,” said Piot’s mom Judy. “It’s like what decision do we have to make today.”
Winning the U.S. Amateur can be life-changing for its champion. All of a sudden, Piot was throwing out the first pitch at Comerica Park before a Detroit Tigers game, heady stuff for a kid from Canton, Michigan, in the southeast corner of the state. The congratulatory messages began rolling in from the likes of former U.S. Am champ Bryson DeChambeau via social media, and Michigan State legends Magic Johnson, Coach Tom Izzo, who proclaimed, “we’re a golf school now,” and World Series hero Kirk Gibson, who invited Piot to his charity golf tournament.
“He was more pumped to meet me than I was to meet him,” Piot said, “and I was pretty pumped.”
Just days after his victory in August, Fox Hills Golf and Banquet Center, the public course in Plymouth, Michigan, where Piot honed his game and learned to play skins before he could do long division, hung a banner above its entrance that said, ‘Home of U.S. Amateur champ James Piot,’ and threw a party in his honor. Not to be outdone, Michigan State displayed several billboards congratulating him too. Piot’s Aunt Janice was the first to recognize his face staring back at her while driving along the M-14 Highway, near Interstate-275.
“My sister and I actually got in the car and drove by there and waited till the (electronic) billboard flashed James on it,” Judy Piot said. “It was crazy seeing him there.”
But wait, there’s more: an upcoming appearance in the 95th America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Downtown Detroit. Before that, Piot is scheduled to take his first prep trip for the Masters on November 17 thanks to a Michigan State alum, who is an Augusta National member and extended an invite. It will be Piot’s first time on the grounds of the famed layout.
Piot plans to have Michigan State’s associate head coach Dan Ellis, who was on the bag at the U.S. Amateur, reprise his caddie role at the Masters, but no word yet on who might caddie for him at Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest, nor does he have any practice rounds lined up yet.
“Reaching out to a big-name pro seems like a shot in the dark, but I might have to,” he said.
The Spirit, which is akin to golf’s Olympics for amateurs, wasn’t even on his radar before he won the Amateur. When he got the invite, he said, “So I get to miss a week of class and represent my country in golf? Sign me up!”
World No. 1 women’s amateur Rose Zhang, reigning NCAA women’s individual champ Rachel Heck and US Amateur champ James Piot show they’ve got mad skills at tricycle riding too @thespiritgolf. #GameNite pic.twitter.com/yaoIsxanIe
— Adam Schupak (@AdamSchupak) November 5, 2021
Admission into the world of amateur golf royalty has an array of benefits. He’s already committed to play in the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, and has possible exemptions to the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio, and Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, on his radar should he choose to turn pro after completing his college eligibility sometime in May (pending how far he or his team advances at the NCAA men’s golf championship.)
“Everything that’s happened to me since the U.S. Amateur has been like, ‘Oh, my goodness, I actually get invited here? I get to do this?” Piot said.
Joining the play-for-pay ranks immediately does present one drawback: he’d have to surrender his exemption into the British Open at St. Andrews in July, which is specifically designated for the U.S. Amateur champion so long as he remains in the amateur ranks. (The USGA relented on the remaining amateur distinction beginning in 2020.)
“That will suck,” Piot said. “Right now, I’m leaning towards turning pro after college to chase points and try to earn a PGA Tour card.”
In the meantime, he’s enjoying the perks of being U.S. Amateur champ and a bonus year of college life. The Havemeyer Trophy, which he has custody of for one year, welcomed visitors to his apartment at school for a month until his roommates, who include Michigan State’s punter, suggested he find a new home for it “before it breaks.”
Mission accomplished: it’s proudly displayed inside the men’s golf team locker room, where Michigan State’s head coach Casey Lubahn keeps a watchful over it.
“My coach almost loves the trophy more than me,” Piot said.