Trump's club pro realizes dream at Merion


ARDMORE, Pa. – Donald Trump loves his towering structures.

He loves his golf, too.

That’s why he’s beaming this week with John Nieporte towering over all the club pros in the land.

Nieporte is one of the best stories in this U.S. Open. He’s also Trump’s head professional at Trump International in West Palm Beach, Fla., and the only club pro to qualify to play at Merion Golf Club this week.

“It’s an amazing story,” Trump told Wednesday in a telephone interview. “John’s a head pro who can really play great. He’s a fabulous ball-striker, but it’s always surprising when a club professional makes it to the U.S. Open because it’s so hard to get in.”

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Nieporte’s a good story on so many levels. He represents what U.S. Open qualifying is all about. Yes, he has a prized job as the head professional at one of the best clubs in the land, but he’s still the U.S. Open dreamer who persevered against the odds. At 46, he’s finally playing in his first U.S. Open. After 20 failed attempts to qualify, two of those failures by a single shot in sectional qualifying, Nieporte finally realized his dream this week. He made his long-time club pro father proud qualifying through the U.S. Open sectional at Ritz-Carlton Members Club in Sarasota, Fla.

There are U.S. Opens in Nieporte’s blood. His father, Tom, now 84, estimates he played in 13 U.S. Opens. Tom played the final 36 holes of the U.S. Open at Southern Hills in 1958 alongside Ben Hogan.

“At the first tee, Ben hits one down the middle, and I say, ‘Great shot, Ben,’” Tom said in a telephone interview from his Boca Raton home. “He hits it on the green, and I say, ‘Great shot, Ben.’ He hits the next fairway, and I say, ‘Great shot, Ben,’ and finally he says to me, ‘Tom, hitting a fairway and hitting a green aren't great shots. I’ll tell you when I hit a great shot.’”

A few  holes later, Hogan carved a long iron in tight to a tough pin placement.

“Now, Tom, that was a great shot,” Hogan told him.

John loves hearing his father tell that story. Tom was the long-time head pro at Winged Foot Golf Club, but also was the winner of three PGA Tour titles. He’s the last club pro to win a PGA Tour event, claiming the Bob Hope Desert Classic in 1967.

“I’m so proud of John,” Tom said. “It’s wonderful he will get to play in a U.S. Open at Merion. It means so much to him.”

To Trump, too.

“Mr. Trump was so excited when I called him to tell him,” John said. “He loves golf, and he wants all his pros to play well. He’s such a competitor, such a good player himself, and he likes to brag about his pros.”

Trump wasn’t the only big name encouraging Nieporte to persevere. Lee Trevino convinced Nieporte he could get to Merion with his game. Trevino won the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion, and when he visited Trump International last winter, he told John all about the wonder of Merion while they played golf together.

“Lee told John that he had to keep trying to qualify for the U.S. Open, that he had the game to make it to Merion,” said Joe Nieporte, John’s brother, a teaching pro at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pa., and at Boca Resort in South Florida. “Lee even gave John his cell phone number and told him to call him after he qualified.”

Joe will be following John around Merion this week. Trump wanted to make it to Merion, too, but dozens of the most beautiful women in the United States are keeping him away.

“I have the Miss USA in Las Vegas this weekend,” Trump said.

Trumps owns the beauty contest, but he said he will have an eye on Merion and the televised broadcast.

“I’ve dreamed of playing in the U.S. Open since I started playing,” John said while working on his game at Merion’s driving range. “Making any U.S. Open would be great, but qualifying to play at Merion, a place with so much history, with the quarry holes, with the wicker baskets on top of the flagsticks, with the stately old clubhouse, it makes it really special.”

John also dreamed of playing the PGA Tour, but honing his game on mini-tours became a grind. Married, with four daughters, he got recruited into following his father’s footsteps as a club pro. Trump recruited him.

Back 14 or 15 years ago, Trump was playing in one of his club championships with Nieporte as his caddie.

“I won it,” Trump said. “John was an excellent caddie. That’s how I got to know him. Two months later, I’m reading the New York Times and I see the name John Nieporte leading the New York State Open at Bethpage. There are a lot great players in that tournament, and he won it by four shots. I said, ‘Why is he caddying?’ I made him one of my teaching pros.”

That was 12 years ago. Nieporte worked his way up from assistant pro to head pro at Trump International. Teaching and running the club meant less time to compete, though.

“John’s a great teacher,” Trump said. “The members love him.”

Though Nieporte has played few tournaments over the last seven years or so because of club duties, he kept his U.S. Open dream alive by instilling it into the head and hearts of some of the more talented youth he works with at Trump International.

“I like to stand behind them and say, ‘Ladies and gentleman, now on the first tee at the 2025 U.S. Open, from West Palm Beach, Fla., please welcome ...’ A couple months ago, I told my wife I still wanted to hear that, I still wanted to play in a U.S. Open,” John said. “This really is a dream come true.”