Q&A With Reigning Champion Dave Ryan August 25, 2017 | MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. By Scott Lipsky, USGA

Dave Ryan will tee it up at The Minikahda Club with a year of great experiences to look back on. (USGA/Chris Keane)

U.S. Senior Amateur Home

Dave Ryan captured the 2016 U.S. Senior Amateur title at Old Warson Country Club, defeating Matthew Sughrue, 2 up, in the final. Starting Aug. 26, he will defend the championship at The Minikahda Club, in Minneapolis, Minn. He recently shared some thoughts on his triumph and what his year as the reigning champion has been like.

How has this year been different as a competitor, being the reigning U.S. Senior Amateur champion?

It’s a very humbling experience to be a USGA champion. It kind of changes you a little bit. At the U.S. Senior Open [at Salem Country Club, in Peabody, Mass.], for instance, I was paired with the defending champion, Gene Sauers, and the defending champion of the British Senior Open, Paul Broadhurst, which was a pretty neat experience.

You got to play a practice round at the U.S. Senior Open with Tom Watson, is that correct?

Yes, I did. I sent his office an email, and I’d say two months before the U.S. Senior Open, I got an email back saying Mr. Watson would love to play a practice round with you. He was a great guy to play with, a gentleman. And [2015 U.S. Senior Amateur champion] Chip Lutz played with us, too, so it was pretty cool. To be honest with you, it makes you kind of nervous playing in front of all of those people when you’re not used to it, but it’s a cool experience.

What other opportunities have you had as the reigning champion? Tournaments that you may not have played in the past, or other things?

I was invited to play in a member-guest at Pine Valley, and the USGA champions that were there, it was pretty amazing, it was like going to golf camp. I was there five days, and I never left the property. I played with [2008 U.S. Senior Amateur champion] Buddy Marucci, [1972 U.S. Amateur and 2009 U.S. Senior Amateur champion] Vinny Giles was there, [1986 U.S. Amateur champion] Buddy Alexander, and [1979 U.S. Junior Amateur champion] Jack Larkin. [1994 and 1996 U.S. Senior Amateur champion] O. Gordon Brewer was there, as well.

Let’s talk a little bit about the championship itself. Obviously winning the trophy is the ultimate goal for everybody who’s there. In all honesty, was that the most memorable moment for you that week, or was it the hole-in-one on the par 4 in your Round-of-16 match with Paul Simson?

Winning it. To qualify for a USGA championship is hard. To win one, you have to play very, very well, and you’ve got to have some luck. In my final match [against Sughrue], I’m 4 up through 10 holes, and I lose Nos. 11, 12, and 13, halve 14. We’re at the 15th hole, and his second shot was probably 25 feet to the right of the pin, and the pin was in the front left, and I had an 8-iron [approach shot], and I went [right at it]. I missed the green, to the left of the pin, right on the edge of the trap, and I had about a 20-foot chip shot, and I tried to chip it in, because I’m only 1 up at this time, and I knocked it by about 3½ feet. I hit the worst putt I hit all week, it didn’t even hit the hole. So now I’m [all square] after 15. And you’re calling yourself every name in the book, and your shoulders are slumping. And as I’m walking from the 15th green to the 16th tee my wife walked up to me, and she said, ‘Believe in yourself.’ And it’s weird how it works, because mentally, it changed my whole mindset. And if she hadn’t said that to me I probably would have lost. It’s kind of like Bob Jones used to say, ‘The toughest course you’ll ever play is the 4 to 5 inches between your ears.’ He was right.”

Did it feel real when you finally were able to get to the finish line and became a USGA champion?

It was surreal, to be honest with you. As a young kid, you’re on the putting green, saying, ‘I have to make this 4-footer to win the U.S. Open,’ or whatever, you dream stuff like that, so to become a USGA champion is a dream come true. I still have a hard time believing it sometimes when I wake up in the morning. It’s starting to set in.

Obviously winning the championship is what takes the cake, but take us back to that hole-in-one. And it came during a pivotal time in the match, too.

Paul was 1 up at the time. He hit first, he hit it right in the middle of the green, he hit a great shot. I think during stroke play and in earlier rounds, I had laid up, hit a hybrid and then a wedge in there, but I thought, I have to go for this. And I hit a nice little draw. I couldn’t see it go in. I hit a good shot, but when you make a hole-in-one from that far away, a lot of it is luck. The USGA official that was walking around with us was on a walkie-talkie, and the official in front of us radioed back that it went in the hole. I could hear people scream, there were quite a few people up there. It was pretty cool.

Was that the first hole-in-one on a par 4 you’ve ever made, competition, recreation, across the board?

Yes, and it was also the first hole-in-one I’ve ever had in competition. It was the third one I’ve have in my life. When you do stuff like that, it’s meant to be. That’s what happens when you win one of these tournaments, things like that happen to you.

Do you feel like your game was peaking that week, or do you feel like everything just sort of fell into place?

Before I played there, I played in [the Illinois] Senior Amateur, and I played very well, I won by nine shots, so I had a lot of confidence going into [the U.S. Senior Amateur]. Plus, Old Warson Country Club is my favorite golf course in St. Louis, it’s only about an hour-and-a-half from where I live. I had qualified for my first U.S. Amateur there in 1986. And I had played there for U.S. Open qualifiers. I just love the golf course, it just fits my eye, and that had a lot to do with it.

This year, everybody is going to see your name on the tee sheet, they will be looking to see whether they’re playing you in match play, provided you get there. Does anything change, knowing that your name is one people will be looking for?

Not really. The old cliché is to go out and play one shot at a time and try to do the best you can, and that’s always been my mindset. I’m sure people will look at me differently, but I’m going to try and approach it like any other tournament I’ve played in.

What are your expectations at Minikahda? Now that you’ve won this championship, will anything less than winning make you feel like you fell short?

I’ve never played there, but it looks like a really cool place. Every guy’s goal when you get to a tournament is to win it. You just have to play well and play it one shot at a time and let the cards fall where they fall. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.

What is your advice for somebody who wants to win a USGA championship?

Anybody that qualifies for a USGA championship is a great player. If they’re there, they’re good enough to win one, since they’re very difficult to qualify for.

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