Tempe, AZ (August 15, 2016) – In just a few days, Ryan Douglass will be setting foot on the Arizona State University campus as a new student and as a member of the prestigious Sun Devil golf team.
When the Leesburg native and former Heritage golfer dons the maroon and gold attire with the rest of his Sun Devil teammates in Tempe, it will be his fourth different school since graduating from the Pride in 2013.
He has certainly encountered many heartaches and trying times along the way, but it has all culminated in a spot on the roster at the school of his dreams, the school he has been aiming for since he was 14 years old.
Prior to his senior year at Heritage, Douglass committed to play for the East Carolina Pirates, a school with a solid golf program in Greenville, N.C. His commitment came with the understanding that he would redshirt his freshman year as he lacked the tournament success necessary outside of high school competition. Plus, he was still growing into his lanky 6-foot-4 frame.
“I was playing well, but I wasn’t really playing well enough to play at a program like Arizona State at the time,” Douglass said.
Shortly after arriving at ECU, he realized that he had misjudged what it meant to be a student-athlete at the Division I level.
“I was pretty unorganized and out of shape, and the team wasn’t the most welcoming,” Douglass said. “So getting acclimated the first three or four months was tough, and knowing I wasn’t going to be playing was hard. The whole process of working your butt off and practicing hard with no chance to get in the lineup, I kind of lost the desire to do that.”
With life in Greenville not going as planned both on the golf course and in the classroom, he returned home to Leesburg after just one year.
“When things start getting tough, you are supposed to show signs of resiliency, and I didn’t have that at age 18,” Douglass said.
Leaving ECU with a GPA hovering around 2.0, he decided to resume classes at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), knowing it would be difficult to transfer anywhere else.
“At that time I didn’t even know if I was going to play golf again,” Douglass said. “I hated that I was at home and I hated that I had struggled so bad my freshman year.”
On the bright side, life at home also meant more time with his father, Steve, another avid and successful golfer. According to Ryan, he and his father have a unique relationship, especially after losing his mother to cancer when he was just eight years old.
“My dad was always there, some people can crumble but he did a very good job keeping me focused, raising me the right way. He’s always been supportive of me playing golf and he’s never gotten mad at me for playing bad,” Douglass said. “There are very few people I trust in the golf world and he’s one of them. He’s probably been the biggest mentor in my life.”
While at home alongside his mentor, he began to turn his grades around at NOVA and was ready to move on to the next chapter after one semester, he just didn’t yet know what that meant.
Growing up in Leesburg, Douglass had worked with the Raspberry Golf Academy (RGA) coaches from a young age, primarily Patrick McGuire, who founded the company at Raspberry Falls Golf and Hunt Club in 2007. Douglass went to McGuire for advice, a decision that would change the course of his life.
McGuire got Douglass in contact with Andy Walker, the head coach of the South Mountain Community College golf team in Phoenix. Walker, a former tour player, worked at the Raspberry Golf Academy property in Phoenix and just so happened the coach one of the best junior college golf programs in the nation. The South Mountain Cougars have won five of the last seven NJCAA Division II National Championships.
“Pat gave Andy his word that I was a player with a lot of potential and that I was looking for some guidance and to get back into playing,” Douglass said.
Eager for the opportunity to return to college golf, Douglass shipped off to Arizona to join the Cougars in January of 2015 after just one semester at NOVA, now at his third school since graduating from Heritage. Yet, he was in for another rude awakening.
“I was jumping into a junior college program that is run by a Division I level coach and has the talent of a top-20 Division I level program,” he said. “It was hard, I didn’t really know what it meant to be in a program that was that good. We didn’t have the level of talent at ECU that we did at South.”
Struggling again and not in the five-man lineup, he sought help from another RGA coach at the Phoenix location, Scott Adland, a former member of the Australian PGA Tour. Soon after they started working together in February, Douglass qualified for the lineup and never looked back.
Douglass became a mainstay in the lineup and went on to win regionals later that semester as an individual, and the team won the national championship with him placing ninth.
Not only was his golf game on the rise, but his academics also continued to progress after getting a 3.5 in his semester at NOVA and a 3.8 in his semester at SMCC.
With his newfound all-around success, NCAA Division I scholarship offers started rolling in, including an offer from the University of Tennessee in the summer of 2015.
“It was a very generous offer and something that I was really considering,” Douglass said, “but I wanted to play at ASU since I was 14 and I didn’t want to settle for something that I wasn’t going to be completely happy with.”
Knowing he wanted nothing less than to play for ASU, Douglass returned to South Mountain for another year, hoping to improve his stock.
Douglass went on to finish in the top-10 in every event in the fall and spring except one and this time finished second at regionals, as the team would again cruise to a national championship. He finished 14th at nationals and was a 2nd team all-American.
Yet, it was one particular event during the season that really caught the attention of the ASU coaching staff.
With the Sun Devils’ head coach Tim Mickelson watching, the brother of PGA Tour star Phil, Douglass shot 67-66-70 (-13) at an NCAA Division II event in San Diego and won by four shots, essentially locking up a spot on the team.
“That’s when things sort of became a reality in my eyes and in Coach Mickelson’s eyes because I had been talking to him for a while,” Douglass said.
Douglass committed to ASU right after his second place finish at regionals in May of 2016. Mickelson has since left the program, as former Washington head coach Matt Thurmond has stepped in to replace him. Nevertheless, Douglass remains as excited as ever to join the team.
“Every time I think about it, I just get more and more excited,” he said. “Being here and staying in Tempe over the summer, it was the best thing I could have ever done. Being on campus and driving by the stadium and the golf course, it’s inspiring and gives you an incentive to work hard. I think this is the happiest I’ve been in my whole life.”
In July, Douglass confirmed that he belongs at a top-tier program when he finished second at the Eastern Amateur in Portsmouth, Va., one of the top events in the country, with scores of 64-71-71-64 (-10). His father, Steve, who caddied for Ryan in the tournament, was also a runner-up in the same event in 1988 and happens to be a Portsmouth native, bringing the family full circle.
“It was cool to follow in his footsteps a little bit, to see the excitement on his face and the positive energy from him was awesome,” Douglass said. “He’s been monumental in my golf career, the support is endless from him.”
Viva Loudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Josh Apple
Special to Viva Loudoun
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