Spencer Ralston (USGA/Chris Keane)
PINEHURST, N.C. – Growing up, Spencer Ralston had access to a private putting green two yards down the street in his Gainesville, Ga., hometown. The green was in his cousin Sims Griffith’s backyard, and carved out of turf. It was difficult to control the ball or make it stop, and as it turns out, that’s been excellent preparation for Pinehurst No. 2.
Griffith, who is carrying Ralston’s bag this week at the U.S. Amateur, knows better than anybody the competitive fire burning in his cousin’s chest.
“Super competitive but very quiet about it. He’s not going to let you know he’s chomping at the bit to get you, he’s just going to quietly attack you,” Griffith said.
Truly, Ralston is one of the most soft-spoken men left in this tournament. He is patient and calm, but as Griffiths warned, don’t mistake that for lack of confidence.
To some extent, confidence to win in golf can really only come from winning. Ralston checked that box in March when he won his first college tournament at the University of Georgia.
Before that, Ralston had been more of a consistency guy. In three years on the Bulldog roster, he’s never missed a start. Only three players before him can claim that: Brian Harman, Russell Henley and Kevin Kisner. All three are PGA Tour players.
“We’ve still got another year to go,” Ralston said.
It’s especially impressive considering that Georgia coach Chris Haack doesn’t do handouts. Unless you finished in the top 10 the previous tournament, you’ve got to earn your spot for the next week.
Ralston has been that guy who hung around tournaments all summer before finally getting a major amateur win at the Players Amateur. He was top 5 at the Dogwood, top 20 at the Northeast and barely missed match played at the Western Amateur.
At the Players Amateur, Ralston rallied from 11 shots back with a final-round 63 for a breakthrough win.
“I knew I had been playing well," he said.
Griffiths was reminded of that final round on Thursday at Pinehurst No. 2. Ralston first took down Frenchman Julien Sale, then turned the tables on Parker Coody. The Texas sophomore hadn’t had a match go past the 14th hole yet. Ralston beat him on No. 13 on Thursday afternoon.
Griffiths was still more impressed by his cousin’s defeat of Sale. Ralston birdied the final hole to win after blowing a 3-up lead.
“In the earlier match, he was locked in,” Griffiths said. “That’s the most locked in I’ve seen him in awhile.”
Ralston has a quiet confidence, but it’s there. Letting go of his expectations for perfection was liberating. That, and realizing that he didn’t have to fit the cookie cutter to find success.
“There’s a lot of ways to compete. A lot of people say you need to hit it really far, which definitely helps, or you need to putt it well, which also helps, but there’s no single recipe that sets up for success,” he said.
Perhaps that’s one reason he’s forged on at Pinehurst No. 2. On these greens, you have to be creative. That suits Ralston’s eye. If there’s anything that slows him down, it’s the driver.
This is Ralston’s fourth consecutive U.S. Amateur start, but the first time he has made the match-play bracket. He played three consecutive U.S. Juniors before crossing the threshold to amateur golf. Griffiths has been around for all but one of those events. His No. 1 job is to keep Ralston’s head in it and keep him from getting down on himself. You’re always in it, he says, even when you’re down. By the same token, Griffiths, who played college baseball at Furman, won’t ever allow Ralston to let up.
“Hopefully he keeps on trucking,” Griffiths said. “The kid’s got a lot of potential.”
ABOUT THE U.S. Amateur
The U.S. Amateur, the oldest USGA
championship, was first played in 1895 at
Newport Golf Club in Rhode Island. The
which has no age restriction, is open to
with a Handicap Index of 2.4 or lower. It is
of 14 national championships conducted
annually by the USGA, 10 of which are
for amateurs. It is the pre-eminent
competition in the world.
Applications are typically placed online in the spring
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