(October 13, 2016) – With the pressure of extending Loudoun Valley’s state championship streak to four years, golfer Ryan Hammer entered the second and final round of the Virginia 4A state tournament on Oct. 11 just one shot back of the lead.
A junior with the Vikings, Hammer fired an opening round 73 (+1) the previous day in very difficult, windy conditions at Stonehouse Golf Club just outside Williamsburg, Va., where he found himself trailing Hanover’s Ward Wilkinson by a single stroke.
“I was nervous the first day, but being at the state tournament last year really helped,” said Hammer, who qualified for states an individual. “I was out there wishing the team was there, really thinking about how close we were at regionals, but I was excited and I had two of the kids on the team out there cheering me on.”
As the wild weather conditions subsided and turned to sunshine, so too did Hammer’s game come to life. With five birdies on the scorecard, he shot an impressive 68 (-3) to finish in a tie with Wilkinson (72-69) for first place.
The duel continued in a playoff on the 18th hole, as both players hit their shots on the green in regulation on the tough par four, but neither player was in close proximity to the hole. Hammer hit his first putt to about six feet, while Wilkinson knocked his to about four feet. After Hammer knocked in his putt, his competitor was unable to match him, returning the state title to Purcellville and the Vikings, besting his fourth place finish at the state tournament as a sophomore.
“I got to go first and made my putt and put a little pressure on him, and he missed his,” Hammer said. “I’m proud of the way I handled the second round and the playoff, I was pretty nervous but I kept picking my spots and hitting at them, and it worked out.”
Recent Loudoun Valley graduate and current Longwood golfer Brandon Weaver was the two-time defending state champion, and former Viking and current Virginia Tech golfer Ian Hildebrand won it the year before Weaver.
Hammer was able to keep the legacy alive, cementing the Vikings’ dominance in the state of Virginia.
“It got down to the last three holes, and I thought, ‘wow, I can really do this,’ it means so much,” Hammer said. “Ian [Hildebrand] going to Virginia Tech and being very successful in junior golf, and Brandon [Weaver] winning back-to-back state championships, that’s two great players, and to be continuing that streak with them feels pretty good.”
Both Hammer and Weaver work with Raspberry Golf Academy Director of Instruction John Miller, giving Miller three straight titles as an instructor. Hammer began working with him as a freshman and has seen his game progress immensely.
“I can’t say enough about John [Miller], just everything he has done for my golf game,” Hammer said. “I had two lessons before the state tournament on Friday and Saturday, and he kept saying, ‘you can win this thing,’ and putting that in my mind helped so much.”
According to Miller, the rising star has come a long way since his freshman year. Whether through skill development, process awareness, getting fit for the right clubs, or body development through Performance Edge in Lansdowne, it has been a successful progression.
“We started with a couple adjustments in his golf swing, and also in how he approached the game from a strategy and process standpoint,” Miller said. “He has made significant changes over the last two years, he’s severely dedicated he practices hard, he practices the right way, it’s just been really cool to see him develop and improve.”
Miller witnessed his Hammer’s win firsthand, as he was present for both days of the tournament.
“Watching him play was very satisfying, he played great both days, he hit a ton of fairways, he hit a ton of greens,” Miller said. “But after the first day, we sat down and I asked him if he wanted to win, and he said yes. Based on what I saw, I told him the scores are going to get lower the second day and that we needed a more aggressive strategy.”
It was the more aggressive strategy that paved the way for a 68 and a state title performance.
Hammer also gives a lot of credit to his Loudoun Valley coach Troy Mezzatesta, who walked alongside him throughout the second round and in the playoff.
“He [Mezzatesta] helped me so much on the last day,” Hammer said, “he was just sharing jokes and totally taking my mind off golf, I wasn’t really thinking too much about what I was doing.”
Hammer’s win should not come as a surprise, however, as he was coming off victories in the conference tournament and in the region tournament.
He was able to take medalist honors at conferences with a 73 (+1) at Loudoun Golf and Country Club, and again at regionals with a 70 (-2) at Algonkian Golf Club, where he overcame a rough start and played the last six holes 2-under to prevail by a single shot.
“I was proud of the way I came in and finished and gave our team a chance, we only missed making states by four, so it was really close,” Hammer said.
According to Hammer, his hot streak is due in large part to his mental approach to the game, more than the technical side.
“After I won the conference I felt pretty good about my game,” Hammer said. “Going into all three of the tournaments I didn’t feel like my game was the best it could possibly be, but I was just confident in myself to be able to still give myself a chance to win.”
Outside of high school competition, Hammer will be playing in the Michael Breed Junior Invitational in November at Independence Golf Club in Midlothian, Va., just outside Richmond, as part of the College Prep Golf Tour, as well as the Donald Ross Junior Championship at Pinehurst in December.
The journey toward college golf has begun, and he believes his recent success in high school competition may pave the way to a scholarship.
“I started talking to schools about a month or two ago, and they tell me to keep them updated on my process,” Hammer said. “Being able to tell them I’m conference, region and state champion, hopefully that will open some eyes and I can start talking to a few more coaches.”
He knows his work with Miller and the Raspberry Golf Academy will also help pave the way, as they have a lengthy track record of producing collegiate golfers.
“I’ll just try to take it one tournament at a time and keep working with John [Miller],” Hammer said, “and keep working on my game to get it to that level where I’m very confident and start winning some more.”
Viva Loudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Josh Apple
Special to Viva Loudoun
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