Originally featured in the February 2009 issue of AVIDGOLFER Magazine. Story by Jay Reynolds
The PGA Tour Superstore in Scottsdale sold nearly 3,200 pairs of golf shoes in 2008. What was seemingly just another footwear sell that increased the golf store’s profit margin translated into one of the more pivotal moments in a young man’s professional career. To PGA Tour star Ryan Moore, the purchase of a pair of shoes represented the establishment of a newfound freedom.
Much has changed for Moore’s life since he turned professional in 2005. He has earned more than $4.5 million in prize money on the PGA Tour, and at least that much in endorsement contract monies. Furthermore, he has dealt with enormous expectations placed on him by the media, his fans and, most critically, himself. He had surgery to repair a broken bone in his left wrist that has plagued him since his first tournament as a pro. He has come close, but has not yet won on Tour, which most would have thought to be a foregone conclusion after arguably the best amateur year since Bobby Jones’ Grand Slam.
The closest Moore has come to winning on Tour actually came this past April at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship. On an unseasonably blustery Sunday afternoon in April, Moore began the final round in the lead and held onto it until he made bogeys on Nos. 13 and 14 at the newly renovated TPC Four Seasons layout. Yet, he rallied with birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 to push him back into the lead at 7-under par.
Adam Scott, who was in the group behind Moore, was one shot back and knew going into the final hole that he needed a birdie to tie. And that’s exactly what the Aussie heartthrob did to force the playoff.
On the first playoff hole, the 18th, Scott had a chance to close out Moore, but left his 15-foot birdie attempt woefully short. At the second playoff hole, the par-3 17th, Scott came dangerously close to landing his ball in the pond, carrying the hazard by no more than two yards. Meanwhile, Moore made a dazzling two-putt par from 80 feet to put the players back on the 18th tee box for the third playoff hole.
Moore seemed to be in control, as Scott’s tee shot found the right fairway bunker. Scott’s approach came up short and 48 feet from the pin. But someway, somehow, Scott slithered his putt into the heart of the cup. Moore, who was just off the green pin high, saw his birdie attempt just skim past the cup … along with his hopes for his first Tour victory.
Feeling frustrated about his close calls and in need of a change, he packed up his things from Las Vegas, where he played college golf and lived until late 2008, and moved to Scottsdale. Today, Moore is finally playing pain free. His confidence and swagger are back. Things will be different for Ryan Moore in 2009, and not just with regards to his golf game. There is one noticeable thing absent from Moore’s life: corporate logos.
In a day and age where PGA Tour pros will sell just about any blank space on their shirts, hats and golf bags, Moore is heading in a different direction. The freedom he felt as an amateur had been lost over the past couple of years on the PGA Tour. Once he turned pro he immediately signed lucrative contracts with several major companies, including Ping and Oakley. He was quick, however, to point out that his decision to be logo-free wasn’t because he wasn’t happy with what he had.
“I just wanted to get back to my roots,” Moore said. “It’s more of just me wanting to step out on my own a little bit; not necessarily have anybody to answer to. Play what I want to play, wear what I want to wear and just go be me again. Go be Ryan Moore, not anything else.”
Having the freedom to try different things without having a conscience appealed to Moore’s creative side with regards to the equipment he plays, but surprisingly also to the shirt on his back.
He is taking the look that you’d see when watching old Bobby Jones-era footage and meshing it with today’s urban styles. In a fashion-forward world both on and off the golf course, Moore is trying to turn the clocks back to yesteryear.
“Golf used to be really fashionable and really stylish,” Moore said. “I loved that. Back in the day it followed the trends and I feel like today that’s kind of been lost.”
Moore’s look will conjure snapshots of the more classic, formal golf attire of old. Sweater vests, cardigans, button-down shirts, ties and an array of different hat styles will grace fairways far and wide. And you can be sure of one thing: Moore personally bought and paid for all of the clothes he will don on the PGA Tour. He is one of few, very few, who can say that.
“If I see something, like it and want to wear it, then I’ll wear it,” Moore said.
Paul Goydos is one player who comes to mind when searching for comparisons to the road Moore is heading down. He routinely wears his college alma mater hat, Long Beach State, on Tour. Last year at The Players Championship, he soared to the top of the leaderboard come the weekend. As a result of his stellar play and extensive media attention, he was offered thousands to wear a corporate logoed hat for the remainder of the week. He respectfully declined saying that he just felt more comfortable continuing to show his 49’er team spirit.
Moore is taking it one step further.
Moore has not renewed any of his major endorsement contracts, most notably his contract with Ping and his clothing endorsement with Oakley. He plans to carry a colorful, logo-less golf bag and wear store-bought clothes, which he says he’s purchasing from a variety of stores including Nordstrom, French Connection, Urban Outfitters and American Apparel. But he’s not limiting himself to just higher-end retailers. Having been raised a bargain shopper by his mom, he’s racking up major minutes browsing the racks of discount stores.
“It’s fun having complete creative control,” Moore said. “I’ve been doing some serious shopping. I’ve been shopping so much because I don’t want really any major logo-age, or if it is, it has to be very subtle. Fortunately it was all after Christmas, so I’ve made a killing on all the deals that I’ve gotten.”
The penny-saving ways Moore’s mom ingrained in him as a child will certainly be paying off in 2009 without a guaranteed annual income from endorsements. When asked how much money he’s potentially turning down: “It’s enough that I’m certainly almost embarrassed that I’m not signing with somebody.”
It obviously wasn’t money that drove the decision. It was freedom. A freedom that he feels has been lost since he turned professional in 2005. He always did things his way with regards to his golf game and attire throughout both his stellar junior and amateur career. He felt recently that he wanted to return to those liberties.
Along with the golf shoes, he has even been experimenting with a store-bought driver. He could have gotten the club for free with just a simple phone call, but didn’t want to feel the pressure of having any respective manufacturer expecting him to play a specific club.
He now has the same independence he had as an amateur: to wear what he wants, to play what clubs he wants, and to, essentially, be his own boss.
“Some of it’s the obligation thing. You know, I could be getting the golf shoes with a phone call or two,” Moore said. “If I’m buying it myself, I can wear it if I want to wear it and if I don’t want to I don’t have to.”
Moore has never been hesitant about doing things differently, but completely changing his look and turning down thousands in contract offers has raised a few eyebrows around the Tour.
“Either this is going to make me look like a fool or a genius,” Moore said. “It’s one of those two options … I hope it’s the second one.”
This year won’t be the first time Moore has turned heads among his fans and peers. Looking back on his career, you don’t have to look much further than Moore’s performance at the PGA Championship in 2006.
Standing on the first tee box at Medinah Country Club, outside of Chicago, during the first round, in fact, was the most anxious Moore had ever been on a golf course. He wasn’t jittery because of the magnitude of the situation, or that it was a major championship, or that his high expectations were weighing on his subconscious. He was afraid of two things: 1) making a fool of himself and 2) hurting someone.
With Moore’s surgically repaired left wrist acting up, he discovered that the only way he could hit a ball without experiencing excruciating, shooting pains was to pre-set his wrists by lifting the club nearly parallel to the ground, about two feet above the ball, and start his swing from there.
“I was standing on the range on Tuesday and I didn’t want to withdraw, but if I tried to play I was just going to shoot 90,” he recalled. “I couldn’t hit a drive more than about 200 yards it hurt so bad. So sure enough I just kind of picked a club up and in the air, rather than putting it down at address, took a backswing and it didn’t hurt. So I took a few practice swings and it felt pretty good.”
It didn’t take more than watching his first pain-free shot of the week soar through the air to offer a sense of relief and also a new concern.
“Honestly, my first thought was ‘Oh no.’’’ Moore said. “That didn’t hurt and I hit it good. I knew instantly what was going to happen.”
Moore knew at that moment that he was going to try and play with his newfound pain-free swing. His audacious persona was suddenly alive and well.
“Why not?” he said.
After all, it was only the PGA Championship.
“Now on the tee, from Puyallup, Washington, please welcome Ryan Moore,” the starter’s voice likely boomed, igniting cheers from the thousands surrounding the first tee. Thousands more lined the fairways.
“That first tee shot was by far the most nervous I have ever been on a golf course,” he said. “It’s a major championship and I’m already thinking I’m crazy and now hundreds of thousands of people and the commentators will get to see how crazy I am.”
Ryan Moore is just crazy enough.
“Stuff like that, it’s fun for me. I like being a little different. But I don’t do it just to be different or to be weird, but it was absolutely out of necessity,” he said. “For me it was either withdraw or find some way to get it around the golf course.”
After only playing nine holes Tuesday and nine on Wednesday with his new, non-conventional swing, Moore played fairly solid the first two days, his score totaling 1-under par, safely making the cut. Moore shot bogey-free rounds of 67-69 on the weekend, bested only by tournament winner Tiger Woods’ weekend total. He secured a tie for ninth finish, earning him $165,000 – all this, just days after shooting pains in his wrist almost forced his withdrawal from the event.
Moore’s miraculous play didn’t end at Medinah. He followed his ninth place finish at the PGA Championship with a 12th place showing at the Deutsche Bank Championship, a missed cut at The Canadian Open, and then two consecutive sixth place finishes at the 84 Lumber Classic and the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro. He earned around $500,000 during this streak, all while his wrist still wouldn’t allow him to swing the club normally.
No one should be surprised by Moore’s ability to rebound after injury. He completed his historic hot streak through the amateur golfing world in 2004 after having surgery on his pelvis. He captured the NCAA Championship in early June, then two days later had emergency surgery to remove a cyst on his tailbone, forcing a month-long layoff.
However, it wasn’t necessarily the potentially deadly nature of the cyst or the pain that bothered Moore the most, it was being forced into remission when he felt his golf game nearing a peak.
“I had to pull out of the qualifier, which sucked,” Moore lamented. “I was so mad. I was playing amazing at that point in time and the U.S. Open was at Shinnecock that year and I would have played good.”
He flew home, had the cyst removed and then left the clubs in the garage for about a month before returning to tournament play, near his hometown of Puyallup, at The Sahalee Players Championship just south of Seattle. He made his first post-op swings just two days before the event. The lack of preparation didn’t seem to hinder his game the least bit. He shot an impressive 16-under par on a brutally difficult Sahalee layout that played host to the 1998 PGA Championship. He easily won the 72-hole tournament by five strokes.
Moore then waltzed through the U.S. Public Links Championship the very next week, earning a return trip to Augusta National (he also played The Masters in 2003 via his Pub-Links win in 2002), then won the prestigious Western Amateur in extra holes over 2009 PGA Tour rookie James Nitties.
Then came the U.S. Amateur, hosted at Winged Foot Country Club. Moore had a target on his back, just like a certain someone on the PGA Tour.
“Obviously I had the bulls-eye on me at that point in time,” Moore said. “I understood what Tiger feels like a lot of times. If you’re the person people are trying to beat, they’re wasting some of their own energy worrying about you, when you don’t care about them.
“Everybody’s out there trying to beat him and he’s not out there trying to beat anybody else, he’s just trying to play his best and he knows if he plays his best he’s going to win. I understood that feeling. I felt great, confident, and I felt like if I went out and played my best it was going to take someone doing something really crazy to beat me.”
Apparently no one is as crazy as he, as Moore not only took home the medalist honors, but also captured the Havemeyer Trophy with a thrilling come-from-behind victory in the 36-hole final match.
Not since Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam in 1930 has an amateur dominated a calendar year like Moore did in 2004.
Whether or not he can rekindle his magic with his new look and new attitude remains to be seen. Either way, Moore is doing things his way. So, with store bought shoes, a newly purchased wardrobe and a reinvented disposition, Ryan Moore is back to who he wants to be … himself.