2004: Back for Moore

A few years ago, Ryan Moore’s mother, Roxanne, nicknamed her son “Stealth,” referring to the jet fighter that goes undetected by radar. She was pretty much right on.

At least until the last few months, when the 2004 NCAA champion put together perhaps the greatest summer in the history of amateur golf. Since capturing the NCAA individual crown, he has entered four amateur tournaments and won them all – capping his “offseason” by winning the U.S. Amateur Aug. 22.

While Moore, from Puyallup, Wash., long has been one of the top junior and amateur players in the country, he always had seemed to be upstaged by someone else, no matter what he may have accomplished.

“His mom gave him that nickname because he always seemed to be under everyone’s radar,” says Mike Moore, Ryan’s dad, who also serves as his swing teacher and confidant. “No matter what he did, someone else always seemed to get the publicity. I would just tell him to keep playing and let his clubs do the talking.”

His clubs have been doing that for quite some time.

The high cost of travel limited his national junior golf schedule. Still, he did win a couple of American Junior Golf Association events, was a two-time AJGA All-American, was ranked in the top 20 nationally by Golfweek and finished runner-up at the 2000 U.S. Junior. But someone else always seemed to grab the spotlight.

The same held true during his first few years in college at UNLV, where he was an honorable mention All-American as a freshman and a second-teamer as a sophomore. It was much the same on the national amateur front, even though he qualified for the 2002 U.S. Open and won the 2002 U.S. Amateur Public Links, a victory that earned him an invitation to the 2003 Masters.

At Augusta, the Stealth tag really took hold. Moore made the cut and tied for 45th, a major accomplishment for any amateur playing in his first Masters. But two other amateurs drew all the headlines, as flamboyant U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes finished 21st and Hunter Mahan, runner-up to Barnes at the ’02 Amateur, tied for 28th.

Stealth again was cruising under the radar.

Now, as Moore enters his fourth and final season at UNLV, one thing is certain – he no longer is going unnoticed. So much so that Moore is Golfweek’s preseason No. 1 college player heading into 2004-05.

After struggling with his game, attitude and confidence level last summer and early fall, Moore began to turn things around in October 2003.

A change in equipment – he put a new set of Ping S59 irons and a G2 3-wood in his bag – and in his approach to the game sent the dark clouds scurrying.

“I was really getting frustrated, more mad than I had ever gotten with myself,” Moore recalls. “Finally, I just had to take a step back and ask myself what I was doing because I sure wasn’t having a lot of fun. I was way too focused on score. I knew I needed to get my mindset back the way it was when I was a kid.

“Back then, I didn’t care about bad shots. I would look at them as an opportunity. If I got into trouble, I would look at it as a way to make a great recovery shot. If I landed on the green 100 feet from the hole, I would look at it as a way to make a great putt. I also realized that if (golf) was what I was going to do for the rest of my life, I’d better start enjoying it.”

Since then, it has been nothing but a joy ride for the personable, soft-spoken 21-year-old, who enjoys spending time with family and friends as much as he enjoys winning tournaments.

Beginning with a closing 64 at the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate in mid-October, Moore went on to post 10 top-5 finishes, including three victories, highlighted by his six-shot triumph at the NCAA Championship the first week of June.

He finished the season No. 2 behind Wake Forest’s Bill Haas in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings and was voted a first-team All-American. His 69.38 scoring average was the second-best in history, behind only Haas’ NCAA-record 68.93.

Moore’s NCAA victory was only the start of a remarkable summer. After a minor setback – he withdrew from U.S. Open sectional qualifying to have a cyst removed from his tailbone – Moore returned several weeks later and won the Sahalee Players Championship, shooting four rounds in the 60s.

From there, he went on to win his second U.S. Amateur Public Links, the Western Amateur and then, last month at Winged Foot Golf Club, added the U.S. Amateur title to his bulging resume. He became the only male player in history to win the Public Links and Amateur titles in the same year.

“There is obviously no doubt about his talent,” says veteran UNLV coach Dwaine Knight. “But the thing I like most about Ryan is his competitiveness. He wants to be the best in everything he does, whether it’s golf, ping pong or his school work.”

Adds Moore’s father, who is a managing partner at The Classic Golf Club in Spanaway, Wash., “He is a phenomenal feel player, a gift that he has, and he has great tempo. . . . He understands his swing very well and understands what works and what doesn’t.”

Mike Moore said he and his wife had some concerns about their son going to college in Las Vegas, but after they made a visit and spent time on campus and with Knight, they realized UNLV would be the best place for Ryan. There certainly are no regrets.

“We finally realized that if we raised him the right way, he would be just fine,” Mike says. “We had to trust him, trust Coach Knight and trust in ourselves and the faith and values we always tried to show him.

“Ryan is very conservative inside and very family oriented,” Mike said. “He really enjoys spending time with his brothers (Jeremy, 25, and Jason, 16) and sister (Alyssa, 14). After he won the Western and before leaving for the U.S. Amateur, he took his sister to a movie just to spend some time with her. What I like most about him is he is very, very comfortable just being Ryan.”

As the college season begins, “just being Ryan” will have to be enough, because Moore’s nickname no longer fits. Stealth has become an oversized blip on everyone’s radar screen – especially that of his fellow college competitors.

“I kept close tabs on how Ryan Moore played last year, and my goal this year is to shoot lower than him for the year,” says New Mexico’s Spencer Levin, ranked No. 2 behind Moore. “If I do that, I’ll have a helluva year.”

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