Checking in with Team Canada

The James’ – a family rooted in golf

Austin James
Austin James (Minas Panagiotakis/Golf Canada)

Most golf fans are familiar with Italy’s Molinari brothers, Francesco and Edoardo Molinari; Tiger and Cheyenne Woods; the Haas and Stadler father-son duos; and of course, the Henderson sisters, Brooke and Brittany, here at home. But there are many more competitive golfing families out there, including the James’.

For Geoff and Jean James, it was quite common to see their daughter Augusta promptly pop out of her bedroom when the alarm clock went off for school. She’d then quietly launch into her regular routine of brushing her teeth, getting dressed and making breakfast.

The final task on her daily to-do list was to venture into another bedroom and wake younger brother Austin from his slumber. He was not going to miss the bus on her watch.

“She would wake me up for school and be on my ass if I wasn’t there on time,” laughs Austin. “She’s definitely the more punctual one.”

“I am notoriously bad for babying him,” Augusta admits. “He definitely knows how to take care of himself but he’s just so laid back that sometimes to me it doesn’t look like it.”

Now in their 20s, the school bus seems like a distant memory for the James kids. In its place are airplanes and cars, the usual form of transportation for two emerging young golfers. Augusta, a third-year pro on the LPGA Tour and Symetra Tour, and Austin, a senior at Charleston Southern University, are both prized athletes with Golf Canada’s high-performance program.

Big sis is on the Young Pro Squad while little bro is a National Amateur Team member, though their primary grooming ground has been Loyalist Country Club in Bath, Ont.

That’s where father Geoff is positioned as the head professional, providing easy access to the tee and practice facilities. They’d spend hours upon hours there in the summer and, once they were old enough to work, escape for a quick round after their shifts.

“Growing up I was always very competitive with her and I would keep score to try to beat her,” remembers Austin. “I don’t think she was paying much attention to what my score was because I would lose 98 per cent of the time. She would wax me up and down the golf course.”

“He only thought that I wasn’t keeping score,” answers Augusta. “But I was counting down the days until I wasn’t going to be able to hit it as far as him or beat him as easily. When we first moved to Loyalist he was actually playing a tee up from me. Now I have such a difficult time keeping up with him.”

Standing six-foot-three, Austin towers over his older sister and uses his strength to overpower golf courses too. That, along with his putting, has helped him even out the friendly-but-fierce matches with pint-sized Augusta.

It wasn’t any easier when they were on the same team either. At 10 and 12 years old, Austin actually played a few levels up on Augusta’s hockey team. She was a solid defenseman in a boys league, but he was the star forward.

“It had its challenges sometimes because he was so much better than me,” Augusta says. “It took a little while I guess to just relax with that fact but it was hard to be too upset when we were winning hockey games because he was on that team.”

The James’ were never a one-sport family and Augusta acknowledges her edge on the ice carried over to the golf course. Austin too.

“It gives you kind of a grit or competitiveness that I find a lot of golfers don’t really have,” he explains. “So I think it was really beneficial. She started gravitating to golf at 12 or 13 and I was a little later, focusing on hockey until 15 or 16.”

When Austin did join Augusta on the links full time, his natural abilities allowed him to catch up quickly. However, that only pushed the elder sibling to be more focused and determined to stay a step ahead.

Augusta composed a sterling amateur career, logging high finishes at the Ontario Women’s Amateur, Porter Cup, and U.S. Women’s Amateur over the years. But the brightest moment from Augusta’s pre-professional days came in 2014 when she captured the Canadian Women’s Amateur, beating favourite Brooke Henderson in the process. She was the talk of her town and her house.

For two weeks. Because Austin matched her feat by winning the Canadian Junior Boys Championship.

“For them to win back-to-back national championships, two weeks apart, that is something that I never even imagined,” says Geoff. “It takes a lot of work to win a national championship and for two of them to do it, back to back, brother and sister, I thought that was pretty cool.”

Like always, there was no animosity whatsoever towards Austin for stealing Augusta’s thunder. The James family has always operated like a team. The kids continue to feed off each other’s strengths, with Augusta’s work ethic rubbing off on Austin and Austin’s calm, creative demeanour now present in Augusta. They often track each other’s play from afar and turn to each other for improvement or reassurance.

“I definitely value his opinion a lot on my golf game,” she adds.

“You have to let things roll off your back and he helps me do that because he is so laid back. I can take a lot from him and from growing up with him to my golf game for sure.”

The siblings will get to spend more time training and relaxing together — they are both big movie buffs — in the fall once Austin graduates and eventually turns pro, with the plan to join his sister down in Florida.

It speaks to the strength of their bond despite the distance they’ve grown accustomed to over the past five or six years when Augusta left for North Carolina State University. More than anything, it reveals their family values and character.

“Of everything that I’m proud of, it’s nothing to do with golf but how they handle themselves with everybody that they come into contact with. They’re just really good kids,” explains Geoff, noting their development and progress off the course.

“Most importantly to me is how they’ve turned out as people.”

Though both are projecting to long careers in the professional ranks they know their future wouldn’t be possible without their past, in which mom and dad a played pivotal role.

“It was very instrumental,” reflects Austin. “Those are the two biggest influences in mine and (Augusta’s) golf world, bar none.”

“They’ve afforded us all these opportunities. They put a lot of time, money, effort, sleepless nights into us,” adds Augusta. “So I hope that we’ve made them proud and shown that we will work hard in appreciation of the sacrifices they’ve made for us.”

Spring_2017_Cover_ENThis article was originally published in the Family Issue edition of Golf Canada Magazine. Click here to view the full magazine