The young employees at Crestview Country Club would be wise to strike up a conversation with Ryan Spears this week.
The Web.com Tour rookie and former Wichita State golfer has been in their shoes.
“I interned out here my senior year,” said Spears, who graduated from WSU in 2009 with a sports administration degree. “I worked in the (pro) shop, the cart barn, on the (driving) range. I didn’t mind working. I hated sitting still.”
Spears, who still lives in Wichita, will be on the move in his first Air Capital Classic, which begins Thursday on Crestview’s North course. After unsuccessfully trying to earn a Monday qualifying spot for the tournament his first four years as a pro, the 27-year-old Spears was guaranteed one this year by virtue of his finish in the PGA Tour qualifying tournament in December.
Spears, the 2006 Missouri Valley Conference champion, is 38th on the Web.com’s season money list with $54,140. He started the tour season by earning prize money in five consecutive tournaments, but missed the weekend cut in his next three starts and withdrew from the tour’s previous tournament, the Mid-Atlantic Championship, after an opening-round 81.
“I’d love to have some confidence coming in here,” Spears said. “I’ll try to put that short-term memory into effect and act like it never happened.”
Selective memory might be the best option for Spears this year. In March, he posted top-20 finishes at tournaments in Colombia and Chile. Then at the South Georgia Classic in late April, Spears fired a 66 to take the first-round lead and eventually tied for fifth, pocketing $23,275.
The security of finally having a full-time spot on the tour was pivotal, Spears said.
“Confidence-wise, it helps out a lot,” Spears said. “The last couple years, I’ve played well but just fell short at the second stage of Q-school.
“Being in the final group on Sunday at Valdosta and having the lead after a couple of rounds, I know what it’s like to be in that situation. I’ve just got to get back there and handle it a little bit better.”
The South Georgia Classic was important to Spears’ psyche for another reason. It was played at Kinderlou Golf Club, a 7,781-yard monster that is more than 800 yards longer than Crestview.
“It definitely showed that I can play any course out here,” Spears said. “I’ve just got to go out and perform the shots.
“Normally, when I’m on a long course, I’m low on confidence because when you’re hitting 4- and 5-irons and hybrids into greens, it’s tough when guys are blowing it 60 yards by you. In retrospect, everybody has got to play the same golf course, and there are different ways to play them. That’s what I’ve had to realize.”
Spears, a Del City, Okla., native, was the Hooters Tour rookie of the year in 2009. It was the same year he qualified – and got some air time – at the U.S. Open at Bethpage. His breakthrough to the Web.com Tour this year was aided by a switch back to a favorite putter after the first stage of Q-school.
At the final stage, Spears closed with rounds of 67 and 69 to tie for 73rd, which landed him playing privileges on the Web.com for 2013.
Spears, who will start the Air Capital Classic at 7:05 a.m. Thursday on the 10th hole, won’t find a more comfortable tour stop this season. He spends idle weeks in the schedule in Wichita with his fiancé, Jessica Rhodes, and will have almost two full weeks of preparation at Crestview before the tournament starts.
“With the talent that we play against, I wouldn’t say I have an advantage,” Spears said. “I think the only thing that I have over these guys is I’ve seen putts out here that they haven’t seen and I know what they do and don’t do.”
And as for his favorite job at Crestview prior to becoming a pro golfer?
“I actually thought working in the barn was better than working for the shop, except for the hot days,” Spears said. “At least you’re up and moving and burning a few calories.”