Ryan Moore sat slumped on a couch in a New York City apartment as the final round of the PGA Championship played out last August. Seated with his girlfriend, Serena Solomon, Moore was sullen and irritated. He hadn’t qualified for the final major championship of 2009, but now, as the duel between Tiger Woods and Y.E. Yang heated up, Moore, an incurious spectator for much of the telecast, let his competitive side show. His eyes locked in on the action, and he started to analyze Tiger’s putting stroke.
That’s the kind of intensity you would expect from a player who in 2005 became the most celebrated amateur to enter the professional ranks since Woods. The summer after his junior year at UNLV, Moore won the ’04 NCAA
individual title, along with five other championships, including the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Public Links Amateur and the Western Amateur. After playing in the ’05 U.S. Open, he turned pro and, using sponsors’ exemptions, finished among the top 125 on the PGA Tour money list to secure his card, becoming the first golfer to avoid Q school since Woods in ’96.
Back then Moore appeared to be a sure thing, someone who, like Woods, would win right out of the gate. But the push to earn a card the hard way took a toll, and the wins didn’t come. Says Phil Mickelson, “It’s an eye-opener to realize that although you might be the dominant amateur player, to compete against the professionals, the depth of the talent out here makes it very difficult.” In other words, welcome to the big leagues, kid.
“Right off the bat he got really close to winning, and maybe everybody expected him to go out and win a little earlier,” says two-time Tour winner J.B. Holmes, who while at Kentucky competed against Moore in college. “He might have put too much pressure on himself, but it’s not as if he played badly. He kept his card, he got a couple of seconds. He finally got a win in the bag last year at the Wyndham Championship, and I’m sure he’ll have more.”
Dressed more like a forester or a guy who enjoys hanging out at a skate park, Moore is unlike any other player on Tour. He has been known to wear a tie when he plays. He strolls the course in skateboard-style shoes with spikes. Logos? They don’t exactly stand out on his apparel or bag. And he has no professional handlers. Yet, curiously enough, Moore, a 27-year-old from Puyallup, Wash., who can be guarded and aloof, can’t stand being alone. “I have somebody with me at all times,” he says. “It’s almost relieving to me that I have somebody who is fun to hang out with. I can relax and enjoy somebody’s company and still go about my business without having to do this or that for others.”
Last year at the Wyndham, Moore made news when he became the first Tour pro in recent memory to win while playing without a club or apparel sponsor. “I want to be 100 percent me on the course,” he says. “I want to be confident and comfortable, and I don’t want to be misleading the public, companies or sponsors. It had everything to do with being 100 percent confident in the clubs I had in my bag, comfortable with the clothing I was wearing. I simply wanted to be me.”
“I love the fact that he didn’t have any logos and won without them,” says comedian George Lopez, who played with Moore in the pro-am last week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where Moore finished 14th, six shots behind winner Hunter Mahan. “His bag didn’t look like a NASCAR guy’s. He was just a guy playing golf.”
Fame and bling have never been motivations for Moore, who turned down almost seven figures in endorsement deals last year, according to his dad, Mike. Adds Moore’s younger brother, Jason, “Ryan is never going to be upset that the media is covering someone because of the shiny belt they’re wearing.”
In many ways Moore is a throwback. His approach is reminiscent of a mom-and-pop shop. He alternates caddies every three weeks, switching between Jason and J.D. Rastouski, a friend. And while management companies are grabbing up potential stars and grooming them into corporate poodles before they can buy alcohol, Moore has no interest in such a partnership. “To quote Ryan,” Mike says, ” ‘I’d like my father and (older brother) Jeremy to handle my business because I don’t have to wonder about motives. I know they won’t want me doing things that aren’t good for my career.'”
Two days before the Phoenix Open, Moore was showing some friends around his Scottsdale digs. His house has four bedrooms, just enough to lodge the entire family (parents Mike and Roxane, and Jeremy, 30, Jason, 22, and Alyssa, 20; last week everyone but Jeremy and Alyssa was there). Moore gestured toward the open area by the front door. “That’s a workout room because I have nothing else to use it for,” he said with an awkward laugh. “This is kind of a big place for only me. Nice, comfortable space for everybody.”
Standing around the kitchen table were the owners of Scratch Golf. After playing without an equipment sponsor last year, Moore signed on with the customized clubmaker, which is based in Springfield, Ore. But rather than simply collecting a fee, Moore took an ownership interest in the company — another example of Moore being Moore.
He has come a long way since the painful injury to his left wrist that almost derailed his professional career. “It started hurting when I turned pro, so it wasn’t exactly the timing I was hoping for,” Moore says. “That was my one chance to get on the PGA Tour right out of college. I simply wasn’t going to let a little bit of pain stop me.”
Moore played through the pain, figuring it was due to overexertion. He took a break from golf in the winter of 2005, but when he started his rookie year, the pain intensified. Doctors thought it was tendinitis and prescribed rest. At the Honda Classic in March 2006 he happened to be paired with Mark O’Meara, who had suffered from the same affliction. The following week O’Meara invited Moore to his doctor’s house. Sure enough, Moore’s left hamate bone was fractured. A week later it was removed.
Even after the surgery doctors told Moore that it would be a year or more before he could hit a golf ball without experiencing pain. But they also told him that he couldn’t do any more damage to the wrist by playing, and that the only harm might be to his psyche. Faced with the prospect of sitting out an entire season, Moore decided that he could deal with the discomfort.
Eight weeks after the procedure he started competing again, but the pain was excruciating. “It started hurting worse and getting more difficult to play,” he says. “The second week back I had to withdraw from a tournament for the first time in my life because the wrist hurt so bad.” In an attempt to alleviate the pain, Moore made adjustments to his swing and soon lost confidence in his game. “Being a little young and anxious, I wanted to come back quicker,” he says. “In hindsight I
But the ’06 season was not a complete loss. In July, Moore rebounded with a tie for second at the Buick Championship, had three more top 10s and finished 81st on the money list with more than $1.1 million in 22 starts. He had a runner-up finish in each of the next two seasons, and finally broke through last August at the Wyndham, beating Kevin Stadler in a playoff. For the year Moore had six top 10s and won more than $2.2 million.
Until recently Moore had never taken a lesson from a swing coach. His dad, who ran a driving range while Ryan was growing up, had always taught him to keep things simple, the way golf is meant to be played. Last fall Moore finally brought on a coach, if you can call him that. Troy Denton also happens to be Moore’s best friend, and he is amused by his new job title, since Denton has been helping Moore with his swing since 2002, when they were freshmen at UNLV. “We talk golf, how it works; just how we do with life,” says Denton.
“Most guys go to big names for their swing methods,” says Jason. “Ryan didn’t want to change his game for someone else’s swing theory so he could become another clone of theirs. He wanted someone like Troy, who knows his swing, has watched him play forever and won’t say you need to swing like Tiger.”
After Moore won the Wyndham, he turned down a ride on the sponsor’s private jet to the following week’s event, disproving the conventional wisdom that all young Tour pros crave G5s. Moore, ever modest, instead chose to savor his long-awaited win with Solomon and Rastouski at a quiet steak house in Greensboro. “I’m a creature of comfort,” Moore says.
The golf world might as well get used to it.