The 12th Man

Published on Wednesday, May 17th, 2017 in Features

Between a baby in May and the Ryder Cup-winning putt in October, 2016 will be a year to remember for Puyallup’s Ryan Moore.

Interview by Brian Beaky

As the action wound to a climax on Sunday at Hazeltine National, with Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed throwing down birdies and eagles, Phil Mickelson draining impossible putts and the pro-American crowd noise building to a frenzy, it suddenly became clear that the fate of the Ryder Cup — the hopes and dreams of an American team that had suffered a crushing defeat on home soil four years before, and an American populace that had celebrated Ryder Cup victory just once in this century — rested on the shoulders not of Lefty, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson or any of the other rock-stars of the American team … but instead would come down to Puyallup native Ryan Moore.

Who?

For most American fans, Moore was the least recognizable of the U.S. squad — heck, he’s probably less recognizable than most of the Europeans, too. Moore’s world ranking of 31st was the lowest of all 24 competitors; in the immediate aftermath of the captain’s picks the previous week, many pundits questioned U.S. captain Davis Love III’s decision to take Moore — who has 12 missed cuts at majors, opposite just two top-10s — over more accomplished (and higher-ranked) players like Bubba Watson or nine-time Ryder Cup veteran Jim Furyk. On a 12-man team, Moore was clearly No. 12.

But around here, we know something most golf fans don’t — never underestimate the 12th man.

Down two holes with three to play to the much older and experienced Lee Westwood, Moore went on a three-hole stretch that he calls “the best golf of his life,” making eagle on 16 and birdie on 17 to draw level. On 18, under the kind of pressure that, in Moore’s own words, it was “impossible to prepare for,” it was the veteran who cracked, not the rookie. Westwood stuck his approach in the bunker and then missed his putt for par.
Sitting 20 feet from the hole for birdie, Moore knew he had two putts to complete the comeback and win the match — and unbeknownst to him, but clear as day to the millions of American and European fans watching worldwide — to clinch the Ryder Cup for Team USA.

“Once the point came where I realized I only had to two-putt, there was zero chance that ball was going to get to the hole,” Moore says with a chuckle. “I was cozying that baby up there.”

Two weeks later — after giving him time to come down from Cloud Nine — we called Moore at home in Las Vegas, where he lives with his wife, Nichole, and two kids, Tucker (4) and Sullivan (7 months), to catch up on a whirlwind year and hear, in his own words, what it’s like to be inside the crucible of the Ryder Cup.


I know you had your second child this year — tell me about your kids.
“That’s been awesome. It’s been fun. It’s different. It’s certainly not easy on the travel, but they handle it great, and my wife does a great job.”

How long did it take you to stick a golf club in their hands?
“Not too long, for sure. (laughs) I never had to [play golf], though; it was something that I wanted to do, that I chose to do. I just loved it. So, I’m going to be very much the same way with them. Obviously, they’re going to be around it quite a bit, so they’re going to be exposed. And if they like it and they want to pursue it, then obviously I’d love to help them with that, but if they want to do something else, that’s great, too. They can do whatever they want, as long as they’re doing something they love.”

How has fatherhood changed you as a person?
“That’s a big question. I think it’s made me a lot more patient. I was a pretty patient person to begin with, but kids definitely force you to focus on that even more. For me, it’s something great off the golf course. It’s great to have that distraction, to be able to get away from golf, and not have to be Ryan Moore the golfer, but just be their dad. Obviously Sullivan is so little, but with Tucker, it doesn’t matter what I do, or how bad I finished in a tournament — when I come home at the end of the day, I’m just his dad, and he wants me to come back to the hotel and play superhero guys with him. It’s helped me to relax when I’m away from golf, which I think has been a great thing for me and my game.”

What came together for you in 2016?
“Every year, I personally grow as a golfer. I get smarter, I understand Tour life better. Even doing it for 12 years, there’s still stuff that I learn. As far as my golf game, at the end of last season, I pulled my whole team together — my caddie, my coach, my manager — and we got together for a couple of days and did a team planning session. Everybody had a chance to be honest and say, ‘This is what I saw over the last year, and this is what I think we should work to improve on next year.’ It was nice to get that overall perspective. So, I went into this year with a well-thought-out plan as to what I was going to do and how I was going to do it — whether it was equipment stuff, or practice routines, or how I was going to travel, or what I was going to do on the road; we dissected everything. That took a weight off my chest for the year, of knowing that I had this plan that I could trust and stick to.

“Then also, I had my son at the end of May, and he had some minor health issues; he had to have surgery. It was nothing life-threatening, but we found out about it when my wife was about six months pregnant, and I think that weighed on me in the middle of the year, knowing that was coming and worrying about it. I had a rough stretch there where I didn’t play very well. But then when he was born, and he was healthy, and the surgery was successful, that was another big weight off my shoulders.

“Around that same time, at the end of June, I found a new trainer — Brian Chandler — which was a big part. A lot of my success later in the year had to do simply with feeling better physically. He really studies body movement, motion, efficiency and rotational movement, and it really helped me learn so much about how the golf motion needs to happen, what needs to be strong for it, and where I was weak. I’ve had aches and pains on and off over the years — obviously with a one-sided, repetitive motion that you’re doing over and over, things are going to hurt. I had some things nagging for years, but he’s helped me get to where those things aren’t bothering me, and I can just show up and go play without having that in the back of my head. So that was a huge part to my success at the end of the year, for sure.”

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