You could say Ryan Hall broke the mold – at least initially.
Hall’s father, Brian, played college golf for Walters State, a community college in Morristown, Tennessee, and later became the superintendent at Centennial Golf Course when the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, course opened in 1996. Ryan was born a few years later yet quickly showed more interest in baseball than golf.
“My dad would promise me Reese’s Cups if I finished six holes,” Ryan recalls, “so I’d whack it around for six holes, he’d give me some Reese’s Cups and then I’d be finished.”
The skinny kid clearly didn’t need the incentive for very long. He quit baseball at age 9 to focus on golf. Now, he’s a rising senior at South Carolina and one of the top players in the country.
But he’s still a big foodie.
“There’s a reason we call him ‘Hoover,’” said Gamecocks head coach Bill McDonald. “He literally vacuums everyone’s food up during team dinners. There’s no telling how many calories that kid takes in.”
Luckily, Hall hits it hard in the gym; when your diet includes lots of pizza and milkshakes, you have to. But Hall’s work ethic translates to the range, too. When he arrived in Columbia, Hall’s game was raw, and he struggled noticeably from wedge distance on into the green.
In three years, Hall spent countless late evenings at the Husky/Dietrich Golf Practice Facility, adding a bevy of shots around the green while dramatically improving his iron trajectory and wedge control.
“He’s one of those kids where you have to tell to leave the practice facility,” McDonald said. “It’s hard to outwork him.”
Of course, for much of Hall’s career, it hasn’t been hard for Hall to lose his composure. He developed a tendency as a junior to let bad shots and holes derail his rounds, and that bad habit bled into college. Though he played solidly, had just one top-10 finish as a freshman and two as a sophomore.
McDonald calls the wiry-strong Hall a “tenacious competitor,” the type of player who just finds a way to win with his fight and fearlessness. But those qualities also have also been his downfall.
“He tries too hard sometimes,” McDonald said.
It wasn’t until this past season that Hall learned to channel his passion. A perfect example of Hall’s strides came at the NCAA Albuquerque Regional in May. Hall doubled the eighth hole of his final round. When McDonald caught up to his star player in the next fairway, Hall said, I’m good. We’re going to make some birdies and get this thing going again.
He birdied four more times and ended up winning, topping a field that included standouts like Oklahoma’s Quade Cummins, Arizona State’s Kevin Yu and Texas Tech’s Ludvig Aberg. He also punched an individual ticket to the NCAA Championship.
“That kid didn’t exist his sophomore year,” McDonald said. “He’s still a hot head, but he’s learned how to get over it and get to the next shot.”
Though Hall capped his season with a disappointing finish in Scottsdale, tying for 67th and missing the 54-hole cut, he still had reason to smile. He won twice and finished T-13 or better in nine of 11 starts to earn first-team All-America honors. He’s currently No. 21 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
“Once I figured everything out, this year it was just about playing smart golf and giving myself a chance to win in final rounds,” Hall said, “and I had a lot of chances to win this year, which was so much fun.”
Hall enters his senior season ranked third in the PGA Tour University rankings. The top five players following next spring’s NCAA Championship earn Korn Ferry Tour cards and radically speed up a potential timeline to the PGA Tour.
For Hall, he’ll get his first taste of Tour life beginning Thursday at the 3M Open, which he qualified for by winning the Augusta Haskins Award Invitational last spring. It’s his Tour debut, so Hall’s expectations are tempered.
“I just hope to go out there and play my best,” Hall said.
No Reese’s necessary; Hall will have no trouble getting through six holes this week.
“Knowing him, he’s so excited to play,” McDonald said. “I just hope his arms don’t fall off hitting range balls.”