Scratching the Surface

Published on Tuesday, May 25th, 2010 in Features

Ryan Moore struggled for three years, doing his best to compete with the world’s best golfers with a surgically repaired wrist. Now, pain-free at last, and with custom-made clubs from new partner Scratch Golf, he is making the changes necessary to contend at the game’s highest level.

By Tony Dear

He’s so laid back, he probably didn’t notice, but the last year or so has been quite eventful for Ryan Moore. First there was a move from Nevada to Arizona to flee the notorious Las Vegas wind and become a member at Scottsdale’s Estancia Club — exactly the type of establishment he was looking for, he says.

He began dating an Australian girl he met down under and who now lives and works in New York City. He spent a year playing whatever clubs he wanted before signing a part-ownership agreement with an Oregon-based manufacturer called Scratch Golf; began work with a new coach and, of course, won his first PGA Tour title.

Really, apart from the fact he hasn’t yet qualified for the British Open at St. Andrews (he has a few routes open to him, but his best bet is working his way into the world’s top-50 by May 24th – he was 52nd at the time of writing) life couldn’t be much better for the 27-year-old who grew up on the fairways and greens of Tacoma’s Classic Golf Club. And it will get better still in April when he returns to Augusta National for the first time since 2005.

“I absolutely cannot wait to get there,” he says, his voice betraying just a hint of emotion. “It’s always been my favorite tournament, and I think the course sets up so well for my game. It has been painful watching on TV the last few years.”

Moore earned a Masters comeback by virtue of his win at the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina last August. In a sense, the play-off victory was five years in the making, and everyone was certain it would act as a springboard for bigger and better things.
Within a month, however, Moore was out of the FedEx Cup playoffs, his game in shambles, his confidence at rock bottom.

“It really didn’t change a thing, to be honest,” he says of the win. “You obviously hope and expect confidence to spread throughout your whole game, but actually the opposite happened. Really, all it did was show me how far off I was from where I wanted to be.

“Everyone on this tour is good enough to win, if they have one of those weeks where everything comes together. That was my week. I didn’t have the same feeling during the first three playoff events, so I didn’t qualify for the Tour Championship.”

Were he still battling the same inconsistencies, the thought of teeing it up at an Augusta National that plays165 yards longer and quite a bit tighter than it was when he was last there might induce considerable fear. As it is, Moore says the difference between his short game now — with a new coach and those sharp new wedges — and that which he used to get up and down a year ago is like night and day. Plus, he is now striking the ball as cleanly as he was back in 2004, when he won a number of collegiate and amateur golf’s biggest titles.

“Back then I felt I could win tournaments with my ‘B’ game, sometimes even my ‘C’ game,” he says. “I just had the feeling I could find four or five birdies and stay in contention no matter how well I was swinging the club.”

That feeling drained away after surgery to repair the hook of the hamate bone in his left wrist in 2006.

“The game became a struggle,” he remembers. “I wanted to get the same feelings I’d had in college back, but I needed help.”

Instead of hiring one of the game’s established gurus — far too obvious a move for so unconventional a character — Moore did his own thing and hired Troy Denton, an old UNLV buddy, with whom he had played an awful lot of golf both in Rebel red and after graduation.

“I wouldn’t say I hired him, necessarily,” says Moore. “He’s one of my best friends, so it’s not like the usual teacher/pupil relationship. But I suppose we did make it a bit more official last September.”

Moore says he asked Denton to advise him because no one knew his swing nearly as well.

“Troy had seen my game at so many different stages,” says Moore. “He saw it when I was playing well in 2004 and when I began struggling in 2006. He knows my game better than anyone.”

“I’ll be with him two weeks of every month, on the road sometimes, and at home on off weeks,” says Denton, who lives in Dallas and gives lessons at the Golf Performance Institute when not working with Moore. “We’re addressing all aspects of his game, but paying particular attention to his short game.”

Indeed, the first drill Denton had his new pupil work on was chipping with just his left hand on the club. Moore says he instantly felt more comfortable and got a much better understanding of where his balance was and the role of the hands.

“Before long, I was back trying to hole chips rather than just get them close enough to leave an easy putt,” he adds.

Rediscovering the confidence he’d once had in his long game took a while longer, and required input from an unusual source.

“I put my name into Google one night and ended up on some guy’s blog which had video of me at the 2005 Masters,” Moore says. “I remember I was crushing the ball that week, so I spent 15 minutes watching the video, trying to let the rhythm of the swing just sort of sink in. Funnily enough, Troy had seen the same video. We knew I needed to make a couple of adjustments to my set-up – flex my knees a little more and bend from the waist more; really just feel a little more athletic. Most importantly, though, I wanted to get the feeling back that my left side was in control of the swing.”

The results since Denton became involved have been impressive – three straight top-10s at the end of last year (including a third in his first ever WGC event), and two to start this season. He missed the 36-hole cut in San Diego and the 54-hole cut in Los Angeles a week later, but both Moore and Denton are certain they are still on the right track.

Just as crucial as the belief he has in his instructor, however, is the genuine enthusiasm he feels for his new tools; the Scratch Golf blades and wedges he put into the bag for the first time at the start of the Fall Series last October.

“It was Troy who first told me about Scratch,” says Moore. “I visited their web site and played around customizing some wedges, which was fun. I then met Ari (CEO Ari Techner) at the Phoenix Open. He sent me a set of clubs a few weeks later and I absolutely loved them. I wanted to put them in the bag right away, which I could do because I didn’t have any endorsement contracts to worry about. But I never had a good amount of time to go out and get used to them.

“I spent some time researching the company and found they’re one of the few that builds irons and grinds wedges the way they should be,” he says. “I eventually put them in the bag during the Fall Series, soon after winning the Wyndham actually, and immediately started improving. I was kicking myself for not having put them in the bag earlier in the year.”

The more he talked with Techner and the rest of the staff, the more comfortable Moore felt discussing contracts. In November, he signed an equity partnership agreement, involving a cash payment and performance incentives.

“I didn’t want to endorse something for the sake of it, just for the money,” Moore says. “I believe in these clubs and this company 100 percent. It is an exceptional product. And switching to blades (Moore plays the forged SB-1 Blade with lofts five degrees apart) from the perimeter-weighted Ping irons I used to win the Wyndham wasn’t really that big a deal, because the guys at Scratch built me clubs with the perfect combination of sole width and bounce, which I think dictate the feel of the club. I come into the ball quite steeply so I wanted clubs with higher-than-normal bounce that don’t dig into the turf so much.”

On-course, everything appears to be in place and Moore seems set for a bumper year. But life away from the Tour is blossoming, too. He is increasingly confident in his Christian faith that, he says, has become a huge part of who he is.

“It affects everything I do,” he adds. “It’s my foundation, really. But I don’t want to push it on anyone.”

His soon-to-be-ready house in Lakewood will allow him to return to Washington more often.

“I didn’t get back as much as I would have liked last year,” he says. “When the house is complete, I’ll be able to come back far more frequently and hang out at the Classic Golf Club, which I love. Its shot values and green complexes are right up there with those at some of the Tour courses we play.”

He is in a solid relationship with an Australian woman named Serena Solomon, who he met two years ago when visiting his brother at a Bible college in Sydney.

“Last June, she moved to New York, which is closer than Sydney obviously, but I still don’t see her as much as I’d like,” he says. “We work it out, though. I played in the Northeast quite a bit toward the end of last season, and she’s coming out to Phoenix in a couple of weeks. We just do what we can, when we can. It’s tough at times, but we’re both fine with it and want to make it work.”

Lastly, he’s enjoying his role as Honorary Chairman of the 2010 U.S. Amateur Cham-pionship at Chambers Bay, even if there are times when he wonders what it is he’s actually meant to be doing.

“I have agreed to help them out with whatever they need,” he says. “Chambers Bay is a great venue and [the U.S. Amateur] is such a great tournament. It helped propel my career; it’s very special to me. This is the first time one of the big USGA events has come to our region. We need to get out and support it and show the USGA we can hold a great tournament in the Northwest. We need to make the most of it.”

For a while, with his game regressing following the wrist injury (he missed 42 cuts between 2006 and September last year), Ryan Moore fans were wondering if he’d ever make the most of his awesome talent. Thankfully, his health has returned, he is clearly content with life, he has new custom-made Scratch Golf clubs in his bag and his form of late suggests he is on the verge of something special.

Tony Dear is an award-winning freelance writer for several publications, and a regular contributor to Cascade Golfer. A native of England and longtime Bellingham resident, he has also authored several books on golf, most recently “The Golfer’s Handbook,” available through amazon.com.




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