James Grimes is an avid golfer.
The Covington resident practices or plays five or six times a week at Abita Springs Golf Club, and he’s been lucky enough to play in tournaments around the country. Though not quite ready for the PGA Tour, he has competed in some age-group events in places such as Las Vegas, San Diego, and even at fabled Pinehurst in North Carolina.
When he played in San Diego, Grimes posted 18-hole scores of 83, 76 and 87 over the three-day event — not bad for an amateur golfer. Not bad at all.
But Grimes is not your everyday amateur. He’s only 6 years old.
If you’re posting scores like that when you’re no taller than the average fairway wood, you’re a fantastic amateur golfer.
James, who turns 7 in July, goes by the nickname “Baby James” — a handle given to him by long-time local professional Jimmy Headrick, who currently is the U.S. Kids Golf Tour director for the Gulf Coast, among many other industry jobs he juggles.
Baby James has an impressive resume. He won 16 times on the U.S. Kids Golf Tour last year in Louisiana and Mississippi, which earned him both the summer and fall Tour Champion Awards. He was an instant crowd pleaser when at 3, he played in a Pepsi Little People’s event in Quincy, Ill.; and he was 4 when he posted the aforementioned scores in the IMG Junior Worlds in San Diego in 2015.
It’s hard to miss Baby James when he is sharpening his skills at Abita Golf Club.
On a recent day, an older man rolled up in a cart, and asked him if he wanted to go play a couple of holes. When Baby James said he was busy giving an interview, the man jokingly told him that’s OK, he’d rather not lose to a 6-year-old anyway.
The boy has that kind of magnetism. People feel compelled to talk with him as they lug their golf bags by or step outside of the clubhouse for some fresh air.
But what really draws them to the youngster is his game.
Baby James hits the ball, on average, 100 yards off the tee. The tournaments he competes in are played at shorter distances than adult events, of course, but Baby James is extremely accurate with his driver (which is impressive for a golfer at any age.) His irons are strong, too, so he’s also in good shape from the fairway.
But where Baby James really shines is on and around the green. He chips with amazing accuracy, and watching him putt is like witnessing a pint-sized Annie Oakley picking off tin cans with a six-shooter from 100 feet.
Baby James lines up balls all over the practice green, and drains many of the putts he attempts — many of them from 25 feet or more. He’s also smart enough to know when he doesn’t have a great chance to hole out, so he lag putts and is almost certain to get the ball close enough to two-putt.
“He truly is the future of our game,” Headrick said. “He’s amazing, really. What was I doing at 6?”
But astoundingly, Baby James entered the national spotlight at an even younger age. The television news program "Nightline" produced a feature on him when he was 3, and the YouTube video of that story has more than 2 million views. He has been featured on the "Rachael Ray Show," and been a cover story in newspapers around the country where he comes to town to play.
Parents James and Nicole Grimes said Baby James began mimicking PGA tour players he saw on television before he was 2.
James bought his son a set of plastic clubs, and Baby James would crawl around the house, hitting the ball under couches, tables and more. When he was barely old enough to stand, he began chipping into a terra cotta flower pot at Nicole’s parents’ house — and he made many of those shots.
Nicole is Baby James’ caddy when he plays in tournaments both local and national. She doesn’t offer much advice to her son (she is not a golfer, and her husband only picked up the sport a year ago so he could play with Baby James.)
Nicole does offer plenty of encouragement on the course, and she logs countless hours on the practice tees and greens with her son. She said that as he has grown, he’s had to make adjustments to his swing to accommodate his new height and increasing strength.
“He gets things fixed quickly,” she said. “He really has an idea of what he needs to do out there. I may make a few suggestions, but he’s the one who’s making the adjustments so well. He understands what to do.”
It’s not uncommon for kids in grade school and younger to excel in golf, and it’s for the same reason that people can play well into their senior years: Golf pushes each player individually and at its own pace. It just so happens that Baby James’ learning curve is much more accelerated than almost all others his age — or older, for that matter.
Nicole and James said they don’t push Baby James to play golf, and note that he excels in other things. He’s a good student (he’s home-schooled), and he enjoys spending time with friends or playing a video game now and again.
But really, where he wants to be is on the golf course.
“If we don’t bring him out there, he gets upset,” James Grimes said. “He says ‘I thought I was going to play golf today.’ I tell him ‘It’s raining, buddy.’ He wants to be here. We don’t force him at all.”
Baby James agreed, saying if he had his druthers, he’d been on the course for the rest of his life — and there’s a whole lot of it left to live.
“I would like to play on the PGA Tour one day,” Baby James said. “But whatever happens, I’m always going to take my clubs and try my best.”