Hot Springs, Va.
Having just slept on a two-shot lead heading into the final round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Championship, Ryan Moore awoke early June 4, drew back the drapes in his room and saw it was cold, gray and rainy.
“I won’t lie,” he said. “There was a smile on my face.”
Not that Moore – a UNLV junior who grew up in Washington and learned how to operate an umbrella early in life – needed much help with the conditions. He seized control of the race for the individual title with a third-round, 6-under 64 at The Homestead’s Cascades Course, and he put to rest any notions that anyone might catch him by piling up six birdies in his first 11 holes in the closing round. It rained nearly the entire last round, but Moore never even seemed to notice.
“We call that ‘Rebel weather’ when it’s tough like this, and try to think about it as an advantage,” said UNLV coach Dwaine Knight. “Some people don’t like to play in it, but Ryan is one of those mudders. He enjoys the challenge of it.”
Moore capped his final round by pitching in for birdie at his final hole, stylishly placing the finishing touches on a round of 66 that left him six shots clear of Wake Forest’s Bill Haas and Arizona’s Chris Nallen. For his first three rounds Moore impressed everyone with his ballstriking, and when he started missing a few greens late on the last day, his short game was nothing shy of magical. Rounds of 67-70-64-66 left him at 13-under 267.
“I played six rounds of golf with him this week – two practice rounds, and four rounds of (tournament) golf – and it was pretty special,” said Haas (70-68-67-68), who was trying to match the NCAA individual title his father, Jay Haas, won at Wake Forest in 1975. “I was impressed. My hat’s off to him. I did what I had to do, and he beat me.”
Moore, 21, already has accomplished some special things in the game. He won the 2002 U.S. Amateur Public Links and played in the 2003 Masters, where he made the cut. But he needed a spark after a flat spring and summer in 2003. Three tournaments into his fall season at UNLV, he switched irons (to Ping S-59 blades) for a new start equipment-wise, and he decided to stop being so hard on himself on the golf course.
In 29 rounds since, he won three times and shot in the 60s 19 times. His highest round was 73.
“It’s a game,” Moore said. “You’ve got to have fun. You’ve got to enjoy yourself, and it’s so hard to achieve that sometimes. I started playing like I did when I was a little kid. When I was a little kid, I didn’t care if I hit it in the rough, didn’t care if I hit it in the trees, didn’t care if I hit it to 100 feet on the green. If I hit it to 100 feet, it was a chance to make the longest putt I’d ever made instead of a chance to three-putt. That’s the kind of approach I’ve taken . . . it’s helped.”
By winning the NCAA’s individual title, Moore, who said he’ll return to UNLV for his senior year, joined such luminary past champions as Hale Irwin, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Curtis Strange, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
“It means a lot,” he said. “This is the goal at the beginning of the year, just to get here in the first place . . . to pull off a victory, it’s hard to put into words.”