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The Next Big Thing: Ryan Moore

Every swing coach and sports psychologist in golf, every Butch, Bob and Leadbetter, is always talking about patience. As soon as they tell you to keep your stupid head down, they tell you not to get ahead of yourself, to play within yourself, to stay in the moment. So even after Ryan Moore had the greatest year any amateur golfer has had since Bobby Jones—after he won the U.S. Amateur at Winged Foot, won the Western Amateur and the Sahalee Players Championship and the U.S. Amateur Public Links and even the NCAAs— after a moment in time like that, the twenty-two-year-old decided to wait to turn pro. After all the trophies he had won, now Moore retired the trophy for playing within himself.

He wanted to be sure. To know. He wanted to see for himself, in the heat—not playing for money yet but still playing in a setting where he felt the money was on the table—if he could go toe-to-toe with the big boys. "You never know until you have to stand in there against those guys," he said.

At Winged Foot he had been both qualifying medalist and champ. He could have skipped his senior year at UNLV and tried the Tour right then.

Somehow, in the age of professional sports when just about everybody leaves college early—or doesn't go to college at all—when hardly anybody can wait for the money, the kid from the state of Washington waited.

"I knew I had proven everything I had to prove in amateur golf," Moore said a couple of weeks after the 2005 Masters. "But I waited until I knew I could go and win out there."

This was after Moore had played the last twelve holes on Sunday at Augusta in five under par to finish one under and tied for thirteenth overall—i.e., only twelve of "those guys" ahead of him.

Mission accomplished.

Tiger Woods won one kind of major at the 2005 Masters and Ryan Moore won another. He walked away without a dime but left feeling rich anyway.

He began the tournament paired with defending champ Phil Mickelson, who never had an amateur year like the one Moore had in 2004. And nobody would pay an awful lot of attention to what Moore was doing over those last twelve holes on Sunday because of what was happening with Chris DiMarco and Woods, who also never had a single amateur year as good as Moore's '04.

And yet: This was the day Moore had waited for his whole life, the one where his name was on the leaderboard with all the big boys in one of the biggest theaters in sports and he was just ripping up one of the most storied tracks in this world on his way to Butler Cabin. There he would talk about getting back to school and CBS's Jim Nantz would ask him what his first class at UNLV would be on Tuesday morning and Moore would choke for the very first time at the 2005 Masters: He couldn't remember.

"It was a communications course in sports," he said when I caught up with him later. "Case Studies." Moore laughed and added, "My teacher still hasn't talked to me."

There is no set timetable, no formula. Some young hotshots turn out to be Tiger or Phil. Justin Rose was a hot teenager at the British Open once, sinking a pitch from fifty yards on the last hole, turning pro to the wild cheers of the crowd then disappearing from the radar for a while before becoming a success on the European Tour. Ty Tryon qualified for a Tour card at the age of seventeen and hasn't been heard from since.

Ryan Moore went to Augusta as the most celebrated American amateur golfer since Tiger, hung in there with Phil the first two days, finished his third round on Sunday morning, then finally saw the wheels start to come off a dream week when the fourth round began in the afternoon. The way they eventually come off for just about all amateurs at Augusta, even the ones like Ken Venturi and Charlie Coe who thought they had a chance to win. There is a reason only four amateurs before Ryan Moore have ever finished under par at Bobby Jones's tournament.

"All of a sudden after six holes on Sunday I'm four over for the tournament," Moore said. "I'd had a 360-degree lip-out for bogey on number four. Then I had another 360-degree lip-out for bogey on number six."

But there were still twelve holes to go. He wasn't playing for the title, the way Tiger and DiMarco were. He hadn't come to Augusta, however, to play a sixty-hole event. He wanted to see if he could go the distance. If he was going to make it to Butler Cabin on Sunday as low amateur, he wanted to go low to do it.

And that is exactly what Ryan Moore did.

Played like the hotshot that he is.

He had four-putted the tenth on Saturday night, his second-to-last hole, before darkness shut everything down. Lipped out his second putt, missed coming back. ("I don't expect things to go perfect all the time," he said.) Just like that, Moore was back to even par. Had all night to think about that. The kid came right out on Sunday and birdied number twelve. Then stumbled again.

Four over, twelve to play.

"My plan for the future is to shake off disappointments and come out swinging," Moore said. "Walking to the seventh tee, I told myself that I better figure out a way to do that right now at the Masters."

He made a fourteen-footer for birdie on seven. Nearly holed out a lob wedge from a few yards off the green and made another birdie on eight. Hit nine-iron to six feet on nine and made that, too. Now he was back to just one over for the Masters.

After a bogey on eleven, he birdied twelve for the second time in the same day, earning a spot in the Amen Corner Hall of Fame. Then birdied fourteen. Nearly made eagle on fifteen but saw one more putt lip out. In nine holes, Moore had gotten himself back under par. Even after he bogeyed seventeen—which Tiger would absolutely butcher later—he made a fifteen-footer for birdie at the last to get back into red numbers on a red-letter day at Augusta National.

He had tied for thirteenth at the Masters, earned a return invitation for next year. He had come to Augusta two years before and played with Arnold Palmer and made the cut. This was different. This one had been worth the wait for the kid from Puyallup, Washington, with the upright swing that he admits has never been a work of art and has never been entrusted to any swing coach. Moore is a player. A scorer. He makes shots when he has to. Even in that first Masters, the one that started out with Arnie, the kid three-putted just one time over four days. When he played the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro last year, he finished tied for twenty-fourth.

"I think I'm ready now," he said after the Masters, when his plan was to turn pro either just before or just after the U.S. Open. "I think I've learned how to play solid and consistent week after week. And I've learned that the only thing that matters in golf is the next shot, the next hole, the next round, the next tournament. The Masters was a great experience. I found out some things about myself I needed to find out. But it's like any other tournament: Once it's over, I'm 100 percent about what I have to do next. So the only major I'm thinking about right now is the Open at Pinehurst."

Ryan Moore paused.

"I can't wait to play against those guys again," he said.

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