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Matt Ryan's long-developing rise

Hart graduate has taken licks as a golfer, but enjoyed great success in 2013

Posted: December 29, 2013 9:58 p.m.
Updated: December 29, 2013 9:58 p.m.

Golfer Matt Ryan at TPC on Friday. Ryan graduated from Hart in 2004 and attended College of the Canyons for one year.

 

What you don’t hear are the stories of the guys who are grinding their way through the lower levels and trying to make a name for themselves.

They’re the ones who just get by and do just enough to keep their dreams of making it big to the big show alive.

That’s been the story of Hart graduate and 27-year-old professional golfer Matthew Ryan for the last five years.

And it looks like all his grinding is about to pay off.

“Most guys aren’t Rory McIlroy where you’re born with just this great gift of all,” Ryan says. “Most guys, it takes a while to mature.”

Last week, Ryan competed in the final stage of Web.com Qualifying School and finished tied for 105th. It was his fifth attempt at Q-School and his first time advancing to the finals, which is the last of three stages played across a two-month period.

His finish at the finals earned him conditional status on the Web.com Tour, which is the most direct pipeline to the PGA Tour, the most prestigious collection of players in the world.

Though his status doesn’t guarantee him any exemptions to Web.com tournaments, Ryan will likely be able to play a handful this year for the first time in his career.

“Golf’s kind of a weird game, but mentally playing out there I’ve gotten better the last few years and I just feel like I’m more ready when it comes to playing on the Web.com or getting PGA Tour card,” says Ryan, who has spent the last three years playing on a small circuit called the eGolf Professional Tour.

The eGolf Tour gave him a chance to stay in a competitive environment while also working on his game constantly.

This year, he played 20 events on tour, made 12 cuts and finished 16th on the money list.

“The thing that’s made the biggest difference has been his mental approach, his mental preparedness,” says David Ross, Ryan’s swing coach for the last two years. “He’s gone about it this year a little bit different in that regard.”

For Ryan, building his mental toughness has taken time. As far as his physical talent, he’s had it all along.

Ryan graduated from Hart in 2004, moved on to play for College of the Canyons for one season and followed that with a three-year career on Fresno State University’s golf team.

In high school, he was a backup wide receiver for Hart’s varsity football team that won a CIF championship in 2003. The following spring, Ryan capped off his four-year high school golf career with another stellar season and a Signal All-Foothill League first-team nod.

But he wasn’t heavily recruited by big college teams and he was relatively under the radar outside of the valley.

It took a strong year at COC and and a successful summer of playing amateur tournaments to get him to the NCAA Division I ranks at Fresno State.

“It was not a joyous day for me to have a young man say, ‘Hey I’m going to play Division I and I’m only going to play for you for a year,” said longtime COC head golf coach Gary Peterson, who continues to keep in touch with Ryan.

In college, it was a steady, year-by-year improvement for Ryan. He was an All-Western Athletic Conference second-team selection as a junior at Fresno State in 2008 and he was off to a good start to his 2009 season until a finger injury cut his season short.

A few months away from the sport he’d played most of his life was all the motivation he needed.

“I think it made me miss (golf) a lot and really want to bear down and get back into it,” Ryan said.

Up until that point, golf was primarily something Ryan played because he was good at it and it provided enjoyment.

Everything changed when he decided to make it his livelihood after college. That’s when he had to dial it up a notch.

“Anybody can mature physically and anybody can get stronger, but not everybody is gifted in the mental side of the game and the side that determines dedication,” Peterson says.

And Ryan’s determination was tested many times.

In 2009, Ryan turned pro and entered Q-School, which has historically been used as the most direct route to the PGA Tour.

His first attempt didn’t work out, so Ryan had to find a smaller pro tour if he wanted to keep playing.

He moved to Huntersville, N.C., where he could easily and cheaply compete in the eGolf Tour based out of the state.

At times, Ryan admits, it was frustrating for him to have to resort to a small tour and only get one opportunity per year to move up in the golfing world.

It was Q-School. And time after time, he’d fall short of the goal.

In five tries, he made the second stage three times, but wasn’t able to get over the hump until this past November.

He finished first place at Southern Hills Plantation Club in Brooksville, Fla. with a four-round score of 17-under. He only needed to end up in the top 19 to advance.

Based on his top-notch performance in the second stage, Ryan said he was disappointed with the scores he posted in the finals.

But he’s dealt with disappointment before in his career, and if nothing else, he’s learned how to move past those moments.

“That’s why golf is weird,” Ryan says. “There’s no time to be disappointed really. You’ve just got to be ready to go the next week.”

Given Ryan’s trajectory, the next week up could mean everything.

“I would not be a surprised to see him in a year’s time as a PGA Tour player,” Ross says.

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