Tuesday at the 2016 US Senior Amateur: Ryan Makes Albatross, Beats Simson

Back nine of Ryan-Simson match (Scorecard courtesy of the USGA)

St. Louis

I swear this is true.

Here at the U.S. Senior Amateur, I watched every shot Tuesday in the third-round match between Dave Ryan and Paul Simson. On the 14th hole, I decided to hike up to the green rather than stand beside the teeing ground, as I did on the other 17 holes.

Call it fate. Call it good fortune. Call it a hole-in-one by Ryan on a par-4 hole.

Dave Ryan  (photo by James Achenbach)

What Ryan did was staggering. He hit a tee shot — with his TaylorMade Rocket Ballz driver and Titleist Pro V1x golf ball — that landed about four yards short of the putting surface and began rolling like a putt.

Rolling, rolling, rolling, plunk. With the last turn of the ball, it disappeared in the cup.

“My phone is full,” Ryan said later. “That’s how many text messages I’ve received. It’s only been an hour or so, and it seems like the whole world already knows what happened.”

What happened was that Ryan, a clear underdog against Simson, a two-time winner of the U.S. Senior Amateur, went from 1 down to all square with one swing of his driver.

The 14th, an uphill par 4 with water on the left and trees on the right, was playing at an official distance of 270 yards. The hole location was on the front portion of the green, and the tee markers had been moved up from their normal 336 yards. The U.S. Golf Association wanted to entice players to go for it.

Hook, line and sinker, Ryan went for it. “He played well,” said Simson. “He did what he had to do.”

After the hole-in-one, Ryan proceeded to lose both the 15th and 16th with bogeys. What he had to do at that point was simple: Erase a two-hole deficit by winning 17 and 18 and squaring the match.

Retrieving a double eagle (Photo by James Achenbach)

That’s exactly what happened. Facing a do-or-die 16-foot birdie putt on 17, Ryan made it. Then he sank a short par putt on 18 after Simson three-putted from 55 feet for bogey.

“There was a ball mark that I aimed at,” Ryan said of his putt on 17. “It was a right-to-left putt, my favorite. It broke right into the middle of the hole.”

In the ensuing playoff, both players parred the 19th, setting the stage for another putting meltdown by Simson. He four-putted the 20th and then conceded Ryan’s par putt.

It was the third career hole-in-one for Ryan, 62, who is playing in his fifth U.S. Senior Amateur and 21st USGA event overall.

Ryan is from Taylorville, Ill., and that’s where his story gets kind of crazy. There is a lesson to be learned here.

Golf in the United States is a game that can be played virtually anywhere by anybody. In Ryan’s case, he grew up in a little cowtown with a population of 8,000 or so. He began playing golf at 9, and he thought everything was normal.

Well, guess again.

The only course in town was the 9-hole Taylorville Country Club, par 33, total scorecard distance about 2,800 yards. The par 3s were tough, the par 4s were easy, there were no par 5s.

Taylorville CC later was renamed Lincoln Trail Golf Club, but nothing could save it. Today it no longer exists, the land becoming first a residential developer’s dream and then a weed whackers paradise. There are few traces left of the old golf course.

Too bad, because a lot of farmers and middle class workers created a relaxed and friendly environment that made golf in Taylorville exactly what the game is supposed to be — lots of fun.

“Can you believe that somebody learned to play golf on that little course and ending up playing in big amateur tournaments,” said Ryan, a lifelong amateur. “It’s amazing.”

A beautiful day at Old Warson CC (Photo by James Achenbach)

Well, maybe not. Ryan and his wife, Amy, still live there, although her boutique shop, called Top Drawer, is located 30 miles away in Springfield. Ryan also plays golf in Springfield at Illini Country Club, a marvelous old course that requires players to move the ball right-to-left and left-to-right.

Illinois is a formidable golf state, and Ryan has long been one of its top competitors. The week before he came here for the U.S. Senior Amateur, he won his fourth Illinois State Senior Championship by nine strokes.

All this begs the question: How did a youngster like Ryan learn to play golf in such an unlikely location? One explanation focuses on a group of older golfers around him. They didn’t overwhelm him with their ability, but they did teach him to be mentally tough and resilient.

Guys like Jim Marblestone, Don Beane, Bill Hopper, Joe Smith and several others were quick with their one-liners and unforgiving with their insistence that Ryan attempt to play in regional tournaments. That’s how he was introduced to amateur golf circles around St. Louis and Chicago.

The result? A hole-in-one on a par 4. Try it, you might like it.

—James Achenbach, Senior Golf Insider

For all 2016 US Senior Amateur Match Results and Starting Times, Click here: