It took Ryan Armour 105 starts on the PGA Tour to collect his first – and to this date only – victory on that circuit, the 2017 Sanderson Farms Championship. So, what’s the big deal about a nearly 30-year wait to play in his first U.S. Open?
Perseverance paid off for the Silver Lake, Ohio native on June 5 at Lambton Golf & Country Club in Toronto, Canada, where he finally qualified at the tender age of 47. Among those who endured 36-hole final qualifying to book a tee time at The Los Angeles Country Club, only Stewart Cink, 50, was older.
Armour guestimates that he’s been trying to qualify for the U.S. Open since 1994, the year he graduated from Walsh Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls and enrolled at Ohio State University. He was also one year removed from his championship-match defeat to Tiger Woods in the U.S. Junior Amateur at Waverley Country Club in Portland, Ore., when Woods rallied from 2 down with two to play to force extra holes, then earned his unprecedented third consecutive Junior title with a par on the 19th hole.
Woods has gone on to capture 15 professional majors, including a trio of U.S. Opens, while Armour has progressively grinded his way from the NGA Hooters and Golden Bear tours in the early 2000s to the Korn Ferry Tour (he won the 2016 Panama Claro Championship) and now the PGA Tour.
“This is my job,” said Armour prior to his nine-hole practice round on Tuesday. “You just keep practicing and keep trying to get better.
“Golf’s funny. Not everyone is a superstar. We’ve been saying, with all the stuff that’s going on in the golf world, superstars need people to beat up on, too. But we can get hot, and we can have good weeks, and we can compete.”
Having gone through the exercise countless times, Armour arrived at U.S. Open final qualifying with no expectations, knowing he was in the field at that week’s RBC Canadian Open. His golf in 2022-23 had produced one top-15 result – at the Sanderson Farms event in late October – and he’d made 7 of 14 cuts since the Sony Open in early January. In the few weeks leading into the qualifier, he tried to slip in some practice time between shepherding his three boys to their various sporting events in their hometown of Jupiter, Fla.
Just before he departed north, a longtime friend and professional offered some sage advice: “You’ve practiced thousands of hours in your life; it’s OK to have some time off. Less is more.”
The Lambton qualifier featured the smallest field of the 10 being contested on “Golf’s Longest Day,” with 27 players vying for three spots. After 30 holes, Armour turned to his caddie of the past 4½ years, Jim McGurk, and asked how many more birdies he thought would be needed to qualify. He had opened the day with a 4-under-par 66 and was 5 under in his second round. “He said two would be great,” said Armour. “I only got one and we kind of hung on from there” for a 67 that included two late bogeys.
His score edged fellow PGA Tour players Harry Hall and Jimmy Walker, the 2016 PGA champ, by one stroke for the last spot.
“Thank god,” said Armour when asked about not needing a playoff. “My shoes were off, and I did not want to put them back on.”
Thirty years earlier, Armour had come within a whisker of taking out one of the greatest players of all time. Woods finished his USGA amateur career with a match-play record of 34-3. Armour nearly pinned a fourth defeat on him.
Armour had begun that day by defeating future PGA Tour winner Charles Howell III in the semifinals. Armour, then 17, had past history with Woods, having lost in the quarterfinals the previous year in Wollaston, Mass., 8 and 6. He went 2 up by draining a 40-foot birdie on 15 and winning No. 16 with a par. But Woods didn’t cement his legacy by folding under pressure. He birdied Nos. 17 and 18, and Armour bogeyed the 19th hole.
“Tiger has been beating everyone’s butt for 30 years, so I didn’t feel bad about getting beat by him,” said Armour. “It was a great experience. It kind of solidified what I was doing at the time. It opened avenues for me to the university I wanted to go to.”
He became a third-team All-American during his senior year at Ohio State. He turned professional in 1999 and has been chasing the dream ever since. The U.S. Open will be his fourth major and third different one, having previously played in two PGA Championships and one Open Championship (all missed cuts).
Armour played in three Junior Amateurs and two U.S. Amateurs, and has always had a fondness for USGA championships. Tiger will not be here this week due to a foot injury.
Last year, Armour dealt with his own maladies, missing a month in the spring due to a back injury, and suffering a rib injury that kept him sidelined for the back half of the summer. By the time he got healthy enough to play, he had fallen to No. 150 in the FedExCup standings, which got Armour starts in the final two playoff events on the Korn Ferry Tour. He tied for 22nd in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship in Columbus, Ohio, then tied for fifth in the KFT Championship to earn one of the 25 available PGA Tour cards for 2022-23.
Now he’s at LACC for the U.S. Open, proving that one should never stop grinding to achieve their dreams.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.