Someone could cut the tension in the air with a knife at the 4A Virginia State Tournament. Last October 11th (2016) was day that Junior Ryan Hammer of the Loudoun Valley golf team was locked in a head to head playoff with Hanover’s Ward Wilkinson. Win, and he’s the state champion.
Surprising, Hammer’s first sport wasn’t golf. He started playing the sport late.
“I played baseball my whole life,” said Hammer. “When I dropped baseball is [the time] when I got into golf. My dad always played, so I guess I just followed what he did.”
Under the beating sun, Hammer reads the green. He must overcome a five foot putt to stay alive. Whether the young golfer reads the lie right or wrong the difference between a small white ball dropping into an equally small hole, or continuing to roll around lazily on the pristine grass. Luckily for Hammer, putting is what he excels in.
“That separates me from most people. A lot of people struggle with putting but I think that’s what the best part of my game is,” said Hammer.
Nerves are starting to get to him. Everything is on the line. In golf, there is no one else who you can count on. No one to blame. Somehow he has to find way with all eyes pointed like lasers on him.
“The most nerve racking moment[s] of my life playing golf,” said Hammer about the playoff. “You have to try and go through it. You have to trust [that] what you’ve been doing is working and you just have to do it.”
Tink. Hammer contacts the ball with his trusty putter. Softly it rolls along the grass. The Juniors’ ball rolls into the hole. All his hours of practice and dedication [are] paying off.
“Get out of school, and all summer, from ten in the morning till dark just practicing,” said Hammer. Every motion fine tuned to be muscle memory. Let me put it this way. If Hammer goes by his schedule twenty-five days out of the month, he would train for two-hundred hours. That’s enough time to watch every single Star Wars movie fifteen times over. Hammer practices eight whole days a month to be able to sink his putts.
Ryan now has to wait for Ward Wilkinson to make his putt. A four foot putt. Less than his. But, the unthinkable happens. Wilkinson misses his putt and in an instant, Ryan Hammer is the new state champion. His best was still to come.
That was last year. This year, Hammer had a record breaking performance, shattering the past record by two whole points.
“Honestly it was just ridiculous. I just couldn’t miss a putt. I wasn’t even hitting great shots. I was just making everything possible.”
Despite Hammer’s amazing day, there was actually a chance for him to shoot even better.
“I was nine under par going into the final hole and six under par was the school record. And, I ended up bogeying and finished eight under par. But, it didn’t even matter at that point. Shooting sixty-four felt pretty good.”
To put this performance in perspective, the Nation Golf Foundation says that only two percent of golfers will ever break a score of eighty in their lifetime.
In 2018, Hammer will be leaving Valley. Hoping that he might be able to chase a future in big leagues.
“I’ve already committed to play for Longwoods, so that’s my next step, maybe get on the PGA tour one day. But that’s a long way ahead.”