When Hurricane Irma threatened the Florida coast in 2017, David and Elizabeth Bock evacuated from their home in Jacksonville and headed to Morganton, North Carolina, to visit with their son, Duane Bock, his wife, Geraldine, and their grandchildren, Albany and Alex. There was no question of how they would spend the unexpected time together — out on the golf course.
Duane Bock remembers that week clearly. His father, 85 at the time, was out on the putting green with his daughter Albany, then 14, and Alex, who was 10. There was a putting competition, with an ice cream prize on the line, and David Bock wasn’t about to roll over and let his grandkids win. Thanks to the influence of their father — one of the best golfers to come out of his native East Hampton and a caddy for successful PGA Tour player Kevin Kisner — Albany and Alex were up for the challenge, earning an ice cream treat by the day’s end.
Those are memories Bock cherishes even more these days, as his father died on July 24, before he could see the kind of players his grandchildren have become. Albany and Alex have carried on what has become a tradition of excellence and a pure love for the sport that the elder Mr. Bock gave to his son at an early age.
On August 30, Alex, a freshman at Freedom High School who turned 14 in July, shot a 5-under par 67 in the final day of the Carolinas Golf Association’s inaugural Mimosa Hills Junior Invitational at Mimosa Hills Golf Club in Morganton, to finish tied for sixth in a field of more than 80 players, in which he was the youngest. It was the lowest score he’d ever shot.
Back in the spring, Albany, a junior at the time, represented her high school’s girls golf team at the state tournament, playing well enough to sit in fourth place after the first day and finishing 10th overall, an experience she said gave her the confidence to believe she could continue her playing career in college, a goal her brother holds as well.
It all started in East Hampton decades ago, when Bock — a 1987 graduate of East Hampton High School and the youngest of three boys — was first handed a golf club at the age of 4 by his father. By the time he was 9, he was competing in junior tournaments, and never looked back. He carried a competitive spirit into any venue, Bock said of himself, whether it was playing a round at the Maidstone Golf Club after a caddying shift, or doing his best to please legendary Bonac boys basketball coach Ed Petrie as a role player on the high school hoops team.
He led the Bonackers to a state golf championship in his senior year before a successful four-year playing career at Campbell University in North Carolina. Bock was ranked in the top 10 among amateur players in the country in 1992 and turned pro the year after, playing on the Canadian and South African tours. Shortly after Albany was born in 2002, he took up a caddying career for the kind of lifestyle that would align better with raising a family.
Just like his father did, Bock introduced his children to golf at an early age, but made sure to keep it fun in those early years.
“Ever since they could walk, I had a golf club in their hands,” he said. “Some days, they’d just play in the sand trap and ride in the cart, and other days they’d hit golf shots.”
Both Albany and Alex started playing in junior tournaments around the ages of 6 and 7, participating in the junior program at their golf club, Mimosa Hills, and also in inter-club tournaments and the PGA junior league. They were interested in other sports as well — throughout middle school and high school, Albany played volleyball, basketball and softball, and also did the shot put for her school’s track team, while Alex enjoys basketball and soccer, as well.
But golf has been the north star, especially as they’ve gotten older. It’s also been the most accessible since the coronavirus pandemic began, because of the comparative ease with which it can align with social distancing and other safety measures, compared to other sports. The front row seats and inside-the-ropes access to the PGA Tour that their father’s line of work provides has also been a huge influence. Albany and Alex used to travel more frequently with their father when he went out on tour when they were younger, and Bock said he realized how much of an impact that had even at a young age.
“Alex was maybe 7 when he came to one tournament with us and walked all 72 holes,” Bock said. “When you look outside the gallery ropes and see him, he’s throwing pinecones or something and it doesn’t seem like he’s paying attention, but then we came home after finishing on a Sunday and he wanted to go to the golf course on Monday, and he started doing something with his driver that Kevin always does, and I said, ‘What’s that?’ and he said, ‘That’s what Mr. Kevin does, so that’s what I’m going to do.’ I didn’t think he was paying that much attention.”
Alex still mimics many of Kisner’s pre-shot rituals and mannerisms out on the course, and Bock said his son is a constant student of the game even off the course, practicing chipping and putting in the basement, and following the progress of his father and Kisner when they’re out on tour.
Growing up in such a golf-rich environment, between his family influence and expertise and the constant exposure to the Tour, has made the expected impression.
“I’ve seen the best golfers in the world play, and I can see what they do,” Alex said. “I’ve always wanted to play golf. It’s pretty much what I’ve always done. I like how it’s an individual sport, and how much it can change in one day. You’re pretty much always working on something.”
Albany was more immersed in team sports earlier on, and takes pride in the recruiting effort she helped spearhead among her peers to build up the girls golf team at her high school. She spoke with pride about how her team narrowly missed qualifying for states last year, despite having many players who were new to the game. Representing her squad as an individual was a formative experience, and Albany said she is now looking at colleges where she can join the team, with Coker University in South Carolina and nearby Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina currently her top choices.
The inside look at the game on the professional level, and what it takes to succeed has been an important learning experience for Albany as well, along with the constant guidance and expertise of her father.
“Whenever dad is home, that’s always our time to get our game sharp before he goes back out on tour,” she said, adding that she and her brother receive strong guidance from their club pro at Mimosa Hills as well. “Whenever we go to [PGA] tournaments and see Kevin and all the other pros warm up, and how they prepare, it really shows me and Alex the difference, and how much time they actually put into it, how they always have a pre-shot routine and they’re very consistent.”
Modeling that consistency has been a key to success for Albany and Alex, but their father also values the game for what it has taught them about life off the course, and also for the kind of lifestyle it has afforded his family. Extra time spent at home when the tour was on hiatus for most of the spring because of the virus meant the Bock family had a golf-themed version Groundhog’s Day for a few weeks — online schooling, lunch, golf, dinner, repeat.
“I had three months of home time with the family, and we spent day after day on the golf course,” he said.
When the tour started up again in June, Bock was busier than ever, as Kisner played in 11 of the 13 tour events on the schedule. The hard work paid off, as several strong finishes vaulted Kisner from the 70s on the money list into 23rd place for the FedEx Cup. The pair was scheduled to be in Bock’s home state for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York, September 14-20.
As Bock is enjoying the life of caddying for one of the top players on the Tour, he admits it’s bittersweet that his father can’t see how far his own kids have come, from putting for ice cream to setting their sights on playing collegiate golf. Bock recalled how, in 1992, his father was unable to be there when he won one of the biggest amateur golf tournaments in the country, the North/South Amateur Championship at the famed Pinehurst golf course in North Carolina. Being a parent himself puts those feelings his father had at that time in perspective.
“There’s part of me that wishes my kids were a bit older, so my dad could have seen their success a bit more,” he said. “Growing up, you don’t understand the pride your parents have in you, but now that he’s passed, I hear stories from aunts and uncles and cousins about how proud he was when I won that tournament, how he could hardly even work on those days, when he was 800 miles away and had no idea if I was winning or losing.
“Just to hear those stories, and how proud he was, I would have liked him to see how I now have a 14-year-old kid who just shot 5-under par 67. That was something I couldn’t do until I was 18 or 19. Golf is a big part of me, and dad will always be living with me and in the things I do.”