Tim Rogers has written a great feature for the Akron Beacon-Journal on what’s up with Ryan Armour during his career season on the PGA Tour at the age of 42.
Determined. Persevering. Competitive. Talented. Tenacious.
Which word best describes Ryan Armour?
“All of the above,” Frank Lupica said.
And therein lies a major chapter in the story of Ryan Patrick Armour, the former Walsh Jesuit and Ohio State standout currently writing one of the best stories of the 2018 PGA Tour season.
Flashback to the fall of 1993. Lupica is the Walsh Jesuit basketball and golf coach, positions he would hold for a combined 42 seasons before retiring in 2005.
Armour, from Silver Lake, is a member of both squads and had just won the individual Division I state golf championship, powering the team to a second-place finish. In basketball, he is an undersized guard at a generous 5-foot-9.
Immersed in his run to the state title, Armour had been excused from basketball’s preseason conditioning. In his first basketball practice just days after his state title triumph, the team was running wind sprints and Armour was understandably gassed.
“I could tell he was hurting,” Lupica recalled during a phone interview from his home in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “I took him aside and almost whispered, ‘I knew all you golfers were sissies.’ He looked at me with a glare that would have melted steel. I mean, if looks could kill. And, you know what? He never missed a sprint, never begged out. I think he did that to prove a point.”
It also epitomizes the competitive streak that runs through Armour’s veins. Skill and talent will take you far but it is the desire, determination, tenacity, the refusal to surrender — as well as a healthy dose of confidence — that will put you over the top.
Today, Armour is loaded with all of the above.
“In all my years of coaching I don’t think I had any player as competitive as Ryan,” said Lupica, who frequently corresponds with Armour. “He’s always been aggressive, in both golf and basketball. He was the kid who wanted to take the last shot in basketball, he wanted to be counted on to make the last putt. He always found a way to get it done. His competitiveness not only helped him survive but to succeed. You can see how it is paying off.”
It is a characteristic, paired with a new understanding of the game and his swing, that has enabled Armour to gut it out from years of frustration, return to the PGA Tour and put together the best season of his life.
Armour, 42, is in Scotland preparing to play in the British Open, formally known as the 147th Open Championship, which gets underway Thursday on the Carnoustie Golf Links. It is his first appearance in a major. Long and narrow Carnoustie (7,402 yards, par-71) is regarded as the toughest, most unforgiving course in the Open rotation.
“It should be interesting,” Armour said last week during a phone interview while on his way to practice at the Mayfield Sand Ridge Club in Chardon. “I haven’t played much links golf, but I was talking to [Associated Press golf writer] Doug Ferguson and he told me there were reports that Carnoustie was pretty brown, playing fast and firm. That, I love.”
After years of hard work, perseverance and, at times, heartache, Armour is having a dream season. He has made 18 of 25 cuts, with a victory at the Sanderson Farms Championship in October, a tie for 14th in the Fort Worth Invitational in May, a tie for 23rd at the Memorial in Columbus and a solid second-place finish at the Quicken Loans National with rounds of 66-65-68-68. It all adds up to $2,231,789 in winnings and a likely spot in the first two rounds of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
“His whole life is changing,” Lupica said. “He has reached a level of confidence and relaxation in who he is.”
One statistic jumps off the page when it comes to evaluating Armour’s game. He is second on the Tour in driving accuracy, hitting 878 of a possible 1,189 fairways (73.84 percent).
“It’s huge,” he said of his accuracy. “That was one of the things we emphasized. On the Tour, if you are not a bomber, being short and crooked leads to a missed cut every time.’
Armour will never be compared to Rory McIlroy or Bubba Watson in terms of length, averaging 283.2 yards off the tee.
A life changer
The victory at Sanderson Farms came with a two-year Tour exemption, including entrance into the PGA Championship and the Players Championship. More important, it raised the comfort level for everyone involved.
“It’s the first time I’ve had job security on the Tour,” Armour said. “It has allowed the family to do some things we might not have been able to do.”
Despite his tenacity and never-say-die attitude, Armour reached a point of no return and in 2013 came close to abandoning his dream. He had been on the PGA Tour in 2007-08 and then again in 2010. The in-between years he spent on the Web.Com Tour and didn’t play either tour in 2016.
However, he never gave up hope of returning to the land of courtesy cars and big purses.
The time and travel invested in the game had been taking its toll on his conscience. He had a family to support and missed cuts, and lucrative paydays were as rare as a hole-in-one.
The 2012 season had been especially cruel with 22 missed cuts in 26 events and one top-25 finish on the Web.com Tour.
Torn between being the family man he knew he wanted to be and the successful golf professional he desperately wanted to be, he admits it was the lowest point in his life.
“If you are missing family time and playing bad, it is really awful,” he said. “But if you are missing family time and playing well, you have some justification to what you are doing.”
Armour and his wife, the former Erin Kresowaty, eventually mapped out a plan. Either he would stumble along as just another player whose Tour dreams fizzled, or he would make a no-holds-barred commitment to becoming the player he felt he could be.
“There is a whole support system in place,” said Armour, who turned professional in 1999 but did not win until 2016 in the Panama Claro Championship on the Web.com Tour. “I am not alone in the time and effort that has gone into this. I got sick of being average.”
The support system is headed by Erin and swing coach Jason Carbone, who grew up in Lyndhurst and now is the director of golf at prestigious Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey.
Armour trusted Carbone to make some major swing changes, too technical to dissect here. A major part of the plan was to utilize a swing that will put the ball in the fairway. Hitting the ball 280 yards in the fairway is significantly better than 320 yards in the rough. Suffice it to say, the changes have worked but Armour warns the fix is not all the way in.
“It is always a process, but I like what Jason has done for me,” said Armour, whose scoring average has dropped to 70.663 strokes per round. “I wanted to compete at a higher level, and my ball striking has become better. A lot of guys look for a quick fix. There are no quick fixes out here. I owe a lot to him.”
While Carbone and Armour worked on the physical, it was his wife who attacked the mental.
“When I thought about giving it up, Erin was the one who talked me out of it,” Armour said. “She said that I had invested too much and that she had seen me play so well before. She asked me if I could see myself walking away and still being happy.”
Ghosts of Ohioans past
Is it too bizarre of a proposition to be taken seriously? Is it too outlandish to think Armour has a chance to win the Open?
Hey, Ohioans have had success at past Opens, especially in Scotland. Jack Nicklaus, one of Armour’s heroes, won three times there, starting with Muirfield in 1966 and St. Andrews (1970 and 1978). Tom Weiskopf won his lone major at Royal Troon in 1973. Nicklaus and Weiskopf were OSU guys, like Armour.
Okay, so Ben Curtis won at Royal St. George’s in England, but he was making his first Open appearance — as will Armour — and was ranked 396th in the world and was the longest of long shots at 300 to 1 when he won in 2003. Armour will not be among the betting favorites.
Want more? Tommy Armour — no relation other than sharing the same last name and Scottish heritage — won at Carnoustie in 1931, conjuring up thoughts of Scottish ghosts.
Strange things have happened at the Open at Carnoustie. Remember Jean van de Velde in 1999?
As has been the case several times this season, Erin and Armour’s sons — Patrick and Nicholas — will accompany him to Scotland. After Carnoustie, they’ll fly to Toronto for the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey before heading home to Jupiter, Fla., for the start of the school year on Aug. 13.
“I keep telling the boys they’ll have plenty to say if they have to do one of those, ‘How I Spent My Summer Vacation’ assignments,” Armour said.
Dad is writing a terrific version of his own. It could be the story of the year.