When the boss says play ...
ARDMORE, Pa. -- Wouldn't it be nice if your boss basically ordered you to play more golf?
That's what happened to John Nieporte, whose boss is none other than Donald Trump, better known for firing people than nurturing them with golf love.
But Trump, who owns courses throughout the world (Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., is the site of the 2017 U.S. Women's Open), has a soft spot for golf. He also has a soft spot for Nieporte (pronounced nee-a-PORT-ee), 46, who has worked his way up from assistant golf pro and Trump caddie to head golf pro at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla.
By his count, Nieporte has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open "more than 20 times." But it was his boss, Trump, who pushed Nieporte to concentrate on his game and follow his golf dreams.
Dream No. 1: Play in a U.S. Open.
"I did encourage him to go out and play," Trump said in a telephone interview from his New York offices. "He's a great player ... I think he believes he's a great player."
So what happens? Nieporte survived a sectional qualifying playoff to earn a precious spot at Merion. He played 18 practice holes Sunday, was washed out after seven holes Monday, then got stuck in three hours of rain/rush-hour traffic.
Didn't matter. Nothing could spoil Nieporte's mood.
"You can't beat it," he said. "My patience level is very, very long."
Nieporte is married and has four daughters. That's partly why he didn't pursue more of a playing career.
"He had children, a family," Trump said.
Nieporte first caught Trump's attention as a caddie -- he was on Trump's bag when the real estate magnate won a club championship. Not long after that, Trump noticed that a John Nieporte had won the New York State Open at Bethpage Black.
"I asked, 'Why isn't he a professional?' " Trump said. "I made him a pro. We're very proud of him. He's got the game. He's an amazing ball striker."
As it turns out, Nieporte's Thursday and Friday grouping includes Jim Herman, a former assistant pro at Trump's Bedminster club. Coincidence, or does the USGA have a sense of humor?
Nieporte, the son of Winged Foot pro Tom Nieporte, is counting the minutes until his 2:31 p.m. ET Thursday tee time. He is the longest of long shots. Then again, Nieporte is fond of long shots.
"Francis Ouimet was one of my golf heroes," he said.
Ouimet won the 1913 U.S. Open at Brookline as a 20-year-old amateur. He defeated the great Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.
Nieporte's gallery won't be large. Of course, that could change if The Donald's work schedule changes.
"I'm going to definitely try," Trump said of making the trip from New York to Merion.
Nieporte said he would spring for the train fare.
"I think it would be a great experience," Nieporte said. "To have Donald Trump follow you around? That would be great."
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The U.S. Open, back at Merion Golf Club for the first time since 1981, will play short. But don't expect it to be easy.