FORMBY, England – Ryan Dreyer is used to playing for high stakes under pressure. Not the sort of pressure of the British Amateur Championship, but high-risk games of chance at the card tables of Sun City and Las Vegas.
Dreyer spends more time studying cards these days than he does hitting balls. We’re talking Texas Hold ‘em and Five Card Stud.
The 37-year-old is the most unique player in this year’s championship, maybe one of the most interesting characters ever to pitch up in the game’s oldest amateur event.
He won two games on the opening day of the match play stages after making the 3-over 147 cut on the number. He dispatched Sweden’s Victor Flatau, 3 and 2, in the first round, and then beat 18-year-old Daan Huizing of the Netherlands on the last green. Dreyer holed a 15-foot birdie putt to win the match, 1 up.
He now faces a third-round encounter with veteran Walker Cup player Nigel Edwards.
Not bad for a guy who makes his living from poker.
Dreyer is South Africa’s No. 1 poker player. In fact, he is only playing in this championship as a stopover on his way to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Last year he made the main event in the World Series and finished 55th.
That’s not to say Dreyer doesn’t have some pedigree as a golfer. The South African is a re-instated amateur after spending years trying to make it as a professional.
True aficionados of college golf might remember Dreyer. He was at Texas A&M from 1992-1995, and played against such household names as Tiger Woods, David Duval and Justin Leonard. He graduated and then embarked down the bumpy road of professional golf.
Dreyer spent 11 years trying to make it as a tour pro on the Sunshine Tour in South Africa, the Canadian Tour and the mini tours in the U.S.
By May 2006, Dreyer had enough of tour life. He packed away his clubs and realized he had to find another way to make a living.
“It got to the point where I had no desire to play, to practice,” Dreyer said. “I’d go to some tournaments and I wouldn’t even have a practice round. I’d worked hard on my game for years and I wasn’t getting anywhere. I’d spent 11 years trying to make it, and really I probably spent four years longer than I needed to spend. That was hard to take but it was the honest truth. I had to find another way to make a living.”
Dreyer found salvation in a deck of cards. Actually, an online deck of cards.
“I had started playing online poker and was pretty good. I realized that if I applied myself then I could maybe make a bit of money at it.”
Dreyer was already making a living from poker. He had put his degree to good use writing scripts for a company that filmed poker tournaments.
Dreyer went from script writer to commentator, all the while honing his skills at the card table. Two years ago he hit pay dirt in Las Vegas when he won $33,000 at the tables.
“That was more money than I’d ever made in my golf career, which is pretty sad.”
Last year Dreyer became a household name in his homeland when he won $650,000 in the Million Dollar Sun City Shuffle Up Poker tournament, a $3,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em event.
Dreyer only began to play golf seriously again earlier this year after two years of not playing the game. He didn’t touch his clubs from May 2006 until September 2008. In that period he’d applied to get his amateur status back. He got back into golf by playing a few social rounds at the end of last year.
He seemed determined to be a social golfer for the rest of his life.
“I honestly didn’t think I’d ever break 70 when I started to play again. I had resigned myself to being perhaps a 2- or 3- handicap club golfer.”
Things changed when he shot a 61 at Parkview Golf Club in Johannesburg. That’s when he got the bug again.
Dreyer finally found success in the royal and ancient game when he won this year’s South African Amateur Championship. He then lost in a playoff for the Northwest Amateur in South Africa and decided he might as well break up his trip to Vegas by playing in the British Amateur.
“The timing was right because I was on the way to Vegas anyway. After I leave here I’m flying to the World Series. Had this championship been at another time of year I probably wouldn’t have played.
“I don’t really have any expectations this week because I haven’t really prepared. I spent a lot of time comforting my mom recently because my stepfather died at the end of May. Deep down I’d love to win it for him because we were very close, but I’m old and most of these guys are young so I don’t think that’s going to happen, but who knows?”
It would be a fantastic story if it happened. First, though, Dryer will have to try to get reacquainted with the pressure of elite-level golf.
“There’s more pressure playing golf than poker. You can’t come over the top when you’re sitting playing poker. I can do that easily on the golf course!”