Sometimes athletes need to be patient and wait for their time. After playing on a deep South Carolina men’s golf team which once again reached the championship round of the NCAA Tournament in 2016, Ryan Stachler was not a regular member of the starting five for head coach Bill McDonald’s Gamecocks during his freshman season. Heading into his sophomore season, Stachler has made a name for himself recently by qualifying for the 116th U.S. Open after finishing second out of 39 golfers at Sectional Qualifying.
“I could not have done this on my own,” Stachler said. “I have to thank Coach Billy Mac (McDonald) a lot for everything he’s done to get me on track and where I need to be. I worked hard in high school, but I think sometimes you can work hard at the wrong things. My coaches and teammates taught me to narrow my focus down to things that will actually help me get better.”
“It’s all a credit to him,” McDonald said. “He had to trust his game. He hasn’t played a ton of competitive golf in the last six months, so it’s amazing what he has done.”
“I told him the other night that I was going there to keep him off the driving range. That kid hits more golf balls than anyone I’ve ever seen. He loves to practice. He is like a gym rat. He won’t leave the golf course. You have to force him off the driving range or the putting green. So I’ll be with him just to make sure he doesn’t exhaust himself and wear himself out before Thursday. As a 19 year old kid, I just want him to soak every bit of it up and enjoy every part of it.”
As he continues to work on his game, you can forgive him if some nerves come into play when he competes in his first major tournament June 16-19 at Oakmont Country Club in Plum, Pa.
“Oh yeah, 100 percent, I’ll be nervous,” Stachler said. “Being at the U.S. Open with the crowds watching on that first hole. That’s going to be a tough swing. Hopefully I can get comfortable after those three days with the practice rounds.”
Stachler is looking forward to signing up for the practice rounds which will give him his first opportunity to play with some big names from the PGA Tour. Stachler has been matched up with Chase Parker and Patrick Wilkes-Krier and will tee off for Thursday’s first round at 8:57 a.m.
“I’m going to try to play with some big names in those practice rounds,” Stachler said. “It would be pretty cool to play with those guys. I would like to play with someone like Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and Jordan Spieth. Knowing those three guys are at the top of the game, it would be really cool to play with any of those guys.”
Stachler hopes this experience will help him next year as he tries to work himself into South Carolina’s lineup.
“There isn’t a bigger stage than this, so hopefully I can go out and play with a lot of confidence and learn something from it,” Stachler said. “If I can feel comfortable at the U.S. Open, I think playing in SECs, NCAA regionals or nationals will seem a lot easier.”
Stachler played in only four events for the Gamecocks as a rookie this past year, including just one in the spring, but steady work helped set him up for success.
“It’s further proof that I don’t know what I’m doing,” McDonald quipped. “It’s really neat. He has really worked his tail off. He kept getting better as the year went on, and toward the end the season, he really looked good. We were just so deep as a team that I didn’t have a spot for him (among the top five).”
“Coach was joking about it with me the other day,” Stachler said. “My game wasn’t ready. There are a plenty of guys on the team who proved themselves. I definitely didn’t get robbed of any playing time. I had plenty of work to do. Coach McDonald has really helped me get to where I am right now.”
Where he is now, or at least where he will be later this week, is where any golfer would love to be. With plenty of family and friends on hand at the qualifier, and a former high school teammate serving as his caddie, Stachler was comfortable on the Ansley Golf Club's Settindown Creek Course near his family’s home in Alpharetta, Ga, where he nabbed one of three available spots for the U.S Open.
“I’ve played there in two or three high school tournaments, and I played three practice rounds for it,” Stachler said. “It’s a tough golf course, but it was good to play somewhere I could be comfortable with my shots.
“I hadn’t played competitively since February. It was just something to get back into playing competitive golf. I chose this qualifying location because it’s somewhere I’ve played a bunch of times. It’s only twenty minutes from my house. I didn’t really have expectations. I just figured I would go and try to play my best golf. I didn’t feel like there was a score I had to shoot or anything like that. It ended up working out well.”
Stachler may be understating this performance in the qualifier. He shot a 1-under par 71 in the first round. Although he admits struggling at times off the tee, hitting a ball out of bounds and three into the hazard, he had a breakthrough on his twelfth hole of the day.
“That was the turning point for the entire tournament,” Stachler said. “I was two-over going into that hole, and hit a really bad drive where I was lucky because I was in the hazard line, but I could still hit it. I ended up holing it out from about 135 yards. If the ball had been a foot to the right, I probably would have to have gone back to the tee and probably would have made a double (bogey). So instead I made an eagle. That was huge turning point where I was happy to get out of the first round with a 71.”
That carried over into the second round where he was even better, firing a seven-under round of 65 with nine birdies.
“I got off to a good start, and my putter was working,” Stachler said. “I got off the eighth green and had six birdies already, so I knew I had probably put myself in a pretty good spot. Coming off the last green, it was pretty amazing.”
Stachler has the good fortune of having a teammate with firsthand knowledge about playing in the U.S. Open as May graduate Matt NeSmith played in last year’s tournament.
“I talked to him plenty of times about it before, and he called me right after my round,” Stachler said. “He gave me some good tips, and I’m sure my coaches will give me a few more. I talked to both of my coaches too, and they were excited about it.”
Stachler's success continues what has been another fantastic year on the links for the South Carolina program. The Gamecocks finished seventh last month at the 2016 NCAA Championship, a program-best, and advanced to the match play portion of the event for the first time. The Gamecocks were ranked 10th in the final Golfstat national rankings of the season.