Ryan Palmer, a proud Amarillo native and longtime DFW resident, is as polite and humble, unassuming and thankful for his golfing PGA Tour fortune as one might imagine a West Texas born, 11-year PGA Tour veteran would be.
Palmer, 38, is heavily involved in his charity projects, his young family’s activities and his beloved Texas A&M Aggies. But, in looking back at his 2014 season and looking ahead to his 2015 campaign, Palmer can only say one thing in the most non-boastful way possible:
“It’s a matter of time before I win. A win is coming; I just don’t know where or when. But I know a win is coming,”
After a personal best 2014 season, which included a career-high 14th place finish in the FedEx Cup standings, seven top 10 finishes, discussions for a wild card selection for the 2014 Ryder Cup and a high finish in the season-ending Tour Championship, the friendly, low key Palmer is brimming with confidence and decidedly up-beat about his chances in 2015, which began in Hawaii.
“It was good week after week,” he said of his 2014 season. “The year was the best of my career because of the consistency of my play. I had multiple top ten finishes, two top finishes in the playoffs and I felt it all coming together. I got a ticket to play at Eastlake (Tour Championship). I’m back in all the majors (in 2015), all the World Golf Championships events. All in all it was a very successful year.”
He credits much of his improvements to Dallas golf teaching legend Randy Smith at Royal Oaks Country Club, who helped guide Dallas’ Justin Leonard to a British Open Championship and 12 PGA Tour titles.
“Working with Randy has been awesome and fun; we’ve had a blast together. That’s really a key for us- we have wonderful times together. My ball flight is so much straighter, and I can also hit a fade which is unheard of for me.”
Palmer burst on the PGA Tour in 2004 after one successful season at the University of North Texas and three at Texas A&M. He captured his first PGA Tour title later that year at the now-deceased PGA Tour event at Walt Disney, beating then World No. 1 Vijay Singh for his first professional win.
Victories followed in 2008 and 2010, but as Palmer and many others have learned, professional golf – for the vast majority of players not named Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy – is a marathon rather than a sprint to the victory platform.
Palmer has been putting in the hard work to achieve his goal of golf domination, but not at the expense of family happiness and marital harmony.
Palmer and his wife have a son, Mason, 8, who loves golf, but only in 30 minute segments and enjoys playing hockey – a game his dad rarely heard of growing up in Amarillo –just as much as he enjoys a day on the links.
Palmer took his wife Jennifer to watch as he played in the Dunhill Links, the Scottish version of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, for the first time last fall at St. Andrews. Palmer played in the event with a New York financier he met at the Pebble Beach event while the two wives took in the countryside, and the foursome traveled to Edinburgh together.
“I wanted to see St. Andrews because of a preview of the Open this year, and I wanted to see it before July. My wife came over to St. Andrews and hung out with [his playing partner’s wife], and we had a great time together. We went to Edinburgh together; it was really a fun event. It’s much more relaxed at Dunhill than Pebble Beach or the Open because there are not as many people there.”
He also journeyed to the Far East to play in the BMW tournament in last fall, followed by the HSBC World Golf event in China, where he finished in the top 30. He capped his competitive year by playing with fellow Texan Jimmy Walker in the Shark Shootout for his first-ever professional two-man competition. The two friends finished ninth.
It firmly fits into Palmer’s West Texas-honed philosophy of friends, fun and family, to go along with his solid game.
He is also very the proud of the Ryan Palmer Foundation, (www.ryanpalmerfoundation.org) which he started in 2004 in his hometown. The foundation’s motto is, ‘Helping Kids Achieve Their Dreams,” and, in 2009, the foundation donated more than $100,000 to the Children’s Hospital in Amarillo.
“Ryan just put his nose to the grind stone and kept going. When he became successful, he just wanted to give back and has always been proud to be from West Texas,” said his longtime friend and Amarillo journalist, Phil Woodall.
Palmer also helps the Northern Texas PGA by providing assistance for kids who can’t afford to play in NTPGA events.
“What Ryan does each year for kids to be able to play golf is truly amazing,” said Mark Harrison, Executive Director of the Northern Texas PGA. “He has never forgotten his roots and is true to his Foundation’s mission to make kids’ lives better.”
Palmer’s most recent year-plus run of success began at the 2013 PLAYERS Championship, where he finished T5; his best finish ever in the so-called fifth major. He followed up his great play at the PLAYERS with another fine showing at the Byron Nelson tournament, in front of dozens of family members and friends at the Four Seasons resort course in Las Colinas.
Later that year, he had friend Sean Payton, head coach of the New Orleans Saints and part-time Colleyville resident, caddy for him at the PGA tour event at the Greenbrier in West Virginia.
The hot streak ran all the way through the end of the 2014 season, where Palmer notched high finishes at each of the four FedEx Cup playoff events.
The later summer and early fall surge also allowed him plenty of time to talk about his true fall passion, Texas Aggie football.
Palmer once considered chartering a plane from a fall series Southeastern Tour event to see the Aggies landmark victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa, only to be disappointed when the times between his two sporting passions didn’t work out.
He’s a regular in College Station, attending a couple A&M games each year and, most importantly, became good friends with Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin.
“I was playing in Scott Verplank’s charity tournament at Dornich Hills outside of Ardmore, Okla., and met up with Kevin there. He has a great family. I’m proud to have him as a friend and glad to have him on speed dial if I want to take my son down to the sidelines for a game.”
“I may question the plays when he runs them, but never when I’m with him,” Palmer said with a grin. “We usually don’t talk a lot of football when we are together. I think he is doing a great job for Texas A&M, and it’s only going to get better there.”
When at home in DFW, Palmer can usually be found at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, where his caddy James Edmondson is the multiple-time club champion, and Palmer doesn’t mind showing up for their weekly game and donating some money every now and then.
But as Palmer gets ready for a full 2015 season, where he can pick the events in which he wants to play and feels he will have the most success, he has some clearly defined goals driven by his Texas heritage and fellow Lone Star competition.
“I’m trying to work my way up the list of Texas players. I’m moving up, but I’ve still got a long way to go for Texans who have won major tournaments, like Crenshaw and all of them, but I’m still moving, I feel like I’m a top tier player in my mind as each week progresses. There are so many great players in Texas; I’m just proud to be among them.”
Palmer’s 2015 early season surge has mirrored his renewed sense of confidence and sense of purpose to become Texas’ next PGA Tour superstar.
In his first 2015 appearance at the Sony Hawaii Open, where he is a past champion, he finished T17 with a second round 63. He also finished T10 at the Humana Challenge in Palm Springs, highlighted by a second round 61, which included eight straight holes of birdie or better for a 10-under-par total, another PGA Tour record.
The following week at Phoenix, Palmer finished T2 and delighted the huge crowds at the par 3 16th by wrapping a $20 bill around a golf ball, which displayed the inscription, “have a beer on me.”
Palmer said his love of good play and friendly good times has played out for him in early 2015.
“Obviously confidence is high. My body feels great. The work Randy Smith and I are doing is working. You know, after last year, after the Tour Championship, I kind of told myself we’re just getting started, almost like a chip on my shoulder, I have more to prove. I really feel I have a lot of golf left in me, for sure, years to come. I’m having a blast playing this game, and when you’re having fun, your confidence is high.”