When Ryan Moore defeated Lee Westwood to earn the clinching point for the United States in its victory over Europe at the Ryder Cup in October, the last thing on Moore’s mind was his golf ball.
It was sitting inches from the hole after his short putt had been conceded as cameramen, teammates, friends and family streamed onto the 18th green at Minnesota’s Hazeltine National Golf Club to congratulate Moore, the final man chosen for the team by its captain, Davis Love III.
More than two decades earlier, Love made the winning putt to secure the 1993 Ryder Cup for the Americans at the Belfry in England. Lost in the celebration, he forgot to pick up his ball, and to this day, he does not know what happened to it.
With that memory in his mind, Love picked up Moore’s ball and said, “You’re going to want this.” Later that night, Moore gave the ball back to Love as a show of appreciation.
“He’s the only reason I was on the team in the first place,” Moore said last week at the winners-only Tournament of Champions in Maui, where the PGA Tour resumed its 2016-17 season after a six-week break. “The fact that this was his team and his doing, I wanted him to have the clinching ball.”
The moment was poignant for both men, but it was also telling. Long thought of as a lone wolf because he is quiet and often keeps to himself at tournaments, Moore cut a likable figure on a U.S. team of big personalities. And in his push to make the team, and his success at the event, he has also proved capable of handling a big stage and fulfilling the potential he showed as a ballyhooed amateur more than a decade ago.
Last season, Moore, now 34, had his best year to date on the tour, racking up nine top-10 finishes, including a win, a second place and a third place on his way to a career-best $3.7 million in earnings. His four-hole sudden-death playoff loss to Rory McIlroy at the season-ending Tour Championship in September sealed Moore’s selection to the Ryder Cup team.
One week into 2017, Moore has continued his fine form, finishing tied for third in Maui against an elite group of 31 other winners from last year.
Getting to this point, though, took longer than expected.
When he turned professional in 2005, Moore was the most decorated amateur since Tiger Woods after having won the 2004 NCAA individual title during his junior year at Nevada-Las Vegas, and the U.S. Amateur, the Western Amateur and the U.S. Public Links that summer. Playing on sponsors’ exemptions, he earned enough money to become the first player since Woods in 1996 to go directly from college to the tour in the same season, without having to go to qualifying school.
But the following year, Moore had surgery on his left wrist and missed two months. The injury continued to linger, and other maladies soon cropped up, including those to his shoulder and left ankle. They led him to alter his swing and change his mentality.
“Golf is so much about confidence; it’s hard when you’re injured and it’s hard to gain and keep confidence,” Moore said.
“I had to manage my expectations a little bit. It became ‘Let’s keep my job, not try to win four times a year.’
“It’s hard going from the amount of success I had for that long to losing it, losing that feel and that confidence and hitting the ball where I want to hit it and pick a course apart, to feeling like I was just trying to avoid trouble. You have to find confidence other ways.”
An impressive ball-striker before the injuries, Moore got by with a strong short game, collecting five wins between 2009 and 2016. But it was not until more recently that he elevated his commitment and, consequently, his play.
Jeremy Moore, one of Moore’s three siblings and also his manager, said Ryan had not approached golf like a career until the past five years.
“Something clicked,” Jeremy Moore said. “He realized these guys are really good, and if he wanted to reach his potential, he had to make some changes.”
Among them were his coach (Troy Denton, a former roommate from college), his caddie (J.J. Jakovac) and his trainer (Brian Chandler), who was added last year. Moore also stopped tinkering with, and changing, equipment, something he had done often throughout his decade on the tour.
When asked about the biggest difference in Moore these days, Jakovac, who has been with Moore for five years, said: “Sticking to a plan. He can get sidetracked pretty easily, but I’ve never seen him not tinker with clubs so much over the last year.”
Still, there was plenty of doubt about whether Love would use one of his four captain’s picks on Moore. Once on the team, though, Moore fit right in.
“I remember him standing up telling everyone how thankful he was that we had trust in him, and just saying he’s going to put his heart on the line,” Jordan Spieth said.
Moore went 2-1 for the week in what ended up being a 6-point victory for the Americans.
“I think it was a great team for him because he doesn’t have a ton of super-close friends, but when you get to know him, he’s a cool, laid-back guy,” Jakovac said. “He was a good addition to that team, too, because they already had their strong voices.”
It also changed Moore’s perspective on the Ryder Cup after he had been passed over so many times before, including 2014, when he was left off despite just missing an automatic spot.
“I appreciate it more,” he said.
Love has plenty of appreciation for Moore — not just for helping the United States win the Ryder Cup, but for the gesture of giving the ball back to him.
“It meant a lot to me,” said Love, who has the ball at home on his dresser until he finds a more permanent place for it. “It meant a lot to me the way the whole thing happened. Getting to call him to tell him he was in was one of the highlights of my career.
“What Ryan did was the reason we were a team. I was looking out for Ryan, and Ryan was looking out for me.”