James Piot was a high school all-state Super Team member all four years he played golf at Detroit Catholic Central.
Piot – who has since moved on to play at Michigan State – was never an MHSAA Finals individual champion. But recently he achieved something much bigger, winning the ultimate individual crown for amateurs – the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship.
His championship run concluded Sunday, Aug. 15 at the iconic Oakmont Country Club with a 2 and 1 match play victory over Austin Greaser of Ohio and the University of North Carolina.
Piot led the Shamrocks to a Lower Peninsula Division 1 runner-up team finish in 2014 as a freshman, followed by three consecutive championships creating arguably the best era of high school golf for any one program in Michigan history.
According to his former assistant coach – Jimmy Dewling, now the boys golf head coach at Brighton – team titles suited Piot just fine.
“I think his team winning meant just as much to him than any individual title,” Dewling said. “Truly he’s one of those types of guys.”
Piot’s senior year in 2017, Catholic Central had three players on the all-state Super Team: Piot, Ben Smith (Georgia Tech) and Sean Niles (MHSAA individual champ), while teammates Dyllan Skinner and Sean Sooch were first team all-state.
Now on the national stage, Piot defeated Greaser of Ohio, 2-and-1, by sinking a 20-foot par putt on the 17th hole of the day’s second round in the scheduled 36-hole national final.
“It's the greatest feeling in the world,” Piot said to the national media on site. “I mean, as an amateur it's the best thing you can do. It was making that putt on 17 was just like, ‘Oh, my God. I might've done it.’”
By winning the elite amateur tournament, Piot is to receive presumably automatic exemptions into three professional majors next year: The Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open. That alone is a career-defining bucket list for anyone in golf – and he’s still a college student.
Piot was playing in the U.S. Amateur for the second straight year. In 2020 at Bandon Dunes (in Oregon), he was second in stroke play to enter the match play portion the No. 2 seed. He won his first match but then was bumped out in the round of 32.
This year he finished his unfinished business by cruising through the match play, winning three of his six rounds with identical scores of 4-and-3. In the final, Piot was 1-up after the morning round of 18 holes. But after a lunch break and change of shirts from a dark color to a white one with a green Sparty golfer logo, there was a 4-hole swing where Piot found himself down three after 27 holes.
“I told myself on that tee box (on 10), I said, ‘I'm going to play this (last) nine 4-under.’ That's what I put in my head. Just self-belief.”
The tables turned hard at that point when Piot won four consecutive holes (10-13), and five of six, to go 2-up with three holes remaining, eventually grabbing the win 2-and-1.
Standing at that 10th tee, Piot was down three holes and TV commentator ‘Bones’ MacKay said it would be very difficult for Piot to get back into the match.
“I gave him the nickname when he was 9-years-old of ‘Spunkdog,’ because he’s got so much fight,” said Brian Cairns, his long-time teacher at Fox Hills Learning Center in Plymouth. “He’s in a corner by himself, he’ll come out every time by himself. He’s got spunk. You saw how he walked; you saw how mellow he was. You saw his shoulders go up on the back nine. He made the swings when he needed to make them.”
Dewling provided a similar but different angle on Piot.
“He took pride that he’s a public course guy and put that chip on his shoulder to beat people,” Dewling said about the high school years. “He’d watch other people practice and play and he believed he was doing things different and better than they were.
“I’ve been around high school golfers who practice because they feel like they have to. They think if they’re at the course it means they’re getting better than the next guy. But I think James would go to practice because he really wants to be there, and he really wants to know he’s preparing differently and he’s going to win more.”
Piot has always shown gratitude for the support he’s received over the years from high school buddies to his family and fans of both Catholic Central and MSU – who made up a huge section of the crowd that memorable Sunday afternoon at Oakmont.
“Mom and Dad have always been there, and I’ve been blessed to have the family and the support system I had before I even got to Michigan State,” he said. “I also had my high school coaches there (at Oakmont), Mike Anderson, Rick Williams (Detroit Catholic Central) and Jimmy Dewling, who are great mentors to me in life as well. It’s an extreme blessing to have some of the people in my life and seeing them (at Oakmont). Beyond golf, it was the coolest thing in the world.”
During his Catholic Central career, Piot was not one to dwell on “what could have been” after his MHSAA Finals individual title pursuits. He tied for sixth in Division 1 as a freshman, eighth as a sophomore, fifth as a junior and placed fourth alone as a senior in 2017.
“I think he understood the process better than anyone else – that one or two days of golf wasn’t going to define him. He’s got bigger aspirations than just one tournament," Dewling said. "He truly had an outlook and a perspective that’s so much greater than anything else. He’s so composed in high-pressure situations because he realizes his goals are still in front of him.
“James just plays with a chip on his shoulder, and I don’t think winning the U.S. Amateur is going to change that either. That’s the kind of competitive person he is.”
The people who know Piot well said he won’t change his life much in the short term at least, and will compete with the Spartans this fall and spring while finishing up his degree in finance. His Spartans have unfinished business as well, going after a Big Ten title.
“I just want to enjoy my last ride with the boys,” he said. “My school credit load might shift in the spring … but I’m looking forward to the college season and getting back out there with the Spartans. … We’re going to have a really good team and our goal this year is Big Ten champions, and hopefully we can do that.”
After receiving the U.S. Amateur trophy from the USGA officials, Piot gripped the golden hardware with a graceful respect, and turned it around a few times while looking it over. He was then asked if any past winners’ names stood out to him.
“I was just trying to see if it was real or not. I couldn't believe it. I mean, I honestly was like, did I just win the U.S. Am, in the back of my mind,” Piot answered. “I didn't really sit there and stare at all the names.”
Yet from now on and forever in history, James Piot’s name will be on that special trophy for others to search out and admire.
PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Catholic Central grad James Piot, now playing at Michigan State, keeps an eye on his shot during a 2020 Golf Association of Michigan event. (Middle) Piot, second from right, stands with his Detroit Catholic Central team after the Shamrocks had clinched their third-straight Finals championship in 2017. (Top photo courtesy of Golf Association of Michigan; middle photo by HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Be The Referee is a series of short messages designed to help educate people on the rules of different sports, to help them better understand the art of officiating, and to recruit officials.
Below is this week's segment – Animal Interference - Listen
In golf – it’s common to hear about birdies, eagles, maybe even an albatross. Or in my case, a snowman. But what if an actual animal interferes with your ball while in play?
There are two kinds of interference.
The first involves a ball still in motion. If you are putting and a squirrel darts out and stops or redirects your putt, you simply get a do-over from the original spot.
Off the green, if a moving ball is stopped or re-directed, you play the ball from where it ultimately stops.
If your ball is stopped and a seagull picks it up and carries it off – you just replace the ball to its original spot and proceed.
It doesn’t happen often, but now you know how to deal with squirrels and seagulls … in addition to birdies and eagles.
(PHOTO by Gary Shook.)