STATEN ISLAND, NY — When AJ Galli was just 2 years old, his dad handed him a baseball bat. But instead of swinging to hit home runs, AJ was using it as a golf club.
“So then he got me some golf clubs and I kept hitting the balls,” said the now 7-year-old from Bulls Head.
From there, it was history and AJ has been playing golf ever since. AJ went viral in early 2020 when a video of him playing golf was posted on Golf Digest’s Instagram page. It has more than 170,000 views to date.
Next month, his hard work will pay off in a kids golf world championship.
His father, Steve Galli, explained that he called several golf courses on Staten Island to find an instructor for his son to play golf at a young age. But typically, at age 4, AJ was considered too young to need consistent lessons in golf – until they saw him in action.
He has been training with golf instructor Frank Gargano for the last three years, going to the driving range and playing courses around LaTourette Golf Course in Richmond.
“He’s out here and probably the hardest working student I have, even compared to the older adults,” said Gargano. “It’s really just because he loves it so much.”
Galli explained that the lessons have helped AJ improve his game, as he has no experience playing golf — although he is making an effort to learn. AJ joked that he plays golf better than his father.
“The best part is when he [Frank] goes out with him, some of the best things is how he handles himself out there, like his etiquette…He played my friends the other day — four grown men — and he beat all four of them,” Galli said.
Galli explained he tries to get AJ to practice golf at least once a week in the summer – coaching with Gargano at least three to four times a month. In the winter, he’s able to practice at Gargano’s instructional simulator business, Shot Shaver Golf, which offers interactive game modes for junior golfers. Even Galli has a simulator set up in his Bulls Head home.
Throughout the summer, AJ also participates in tournaments and competitions.
It’s what led him to qualify for the US Kids Golf world championship 2022, which will be held from Aug. 4-6 in North Carolina.
“You have to win or score well in local tournaments and if you do well on those, you get invited to the [championship],” Galli said.
The Galli family, along with Gargano, will be heading south to the championship to support and cheer on AJ. The championship welcomes golfers ages 5-12 to 10 championship courses — bringing together golf’s next generation of stars to shine. It’s the world’s largest junior golf tournament.
While AJ’s dad gets frantic when he watches his son compete, you wouldn’t know that AJ was nervous.
That’s because he isn’t, explained Galli and Gargano.
“It’s extremely nerve-wracking watching him play in these tournaments for me and he doesn’t seem bothered at all,” said Galli. “He doesn’t care how many people are watching…He doesn’t care if he hits a good shot or a bad shot. He’s very even-keeled. I am biting my nails caddying for him, and in shock at some of the shots he made.”
In addition to golf, AJ also plays baseball and flag football.
But golf is still his favorite sport. And his favorite party?
That it’s a sport you play individually.
“If you make a mistake, it’s always on you,” AJ said.
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