PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Ryan Cummings resembles Dustin Johnson but may relate more to Rickie Fowler.
The 31-year-old from Oklahoma has a similar build to Dustin Johnson, a similar swagger and his facial features could allow him to pass as Johnson’s brother at the very least.
Similarities to Fowler don’t come in the way of looks, rather a love for motocross racing. Growing up in Wisconsin, Cummings raced go-carts and was groomed by his father to be a race car driver. But he gave up cars and turned to competitive motocross racing in high school.
That’s where the similarities end.
Although both Johnson and Fowler have made significant progress with their golf games over the past year neither compares with the transformation that Cummings has undergone.
Sixteen months ago Cummings picked golf clubs and decided he wanted to be a professional golfer. Until then he had played several times a year but never was serious. This time he got so serious that he sold his motorbike on the spot and took up club membership at The Links at Stillwater.
He’s been a constant on the practice range since.
Cummings obsession with golf is real. He’s so obsessed that he has molded himself from a 30 handicap in July 2009 to a 10. Playing in the Sarazen Flight (handicaps 12-15.9) he shot 85 at the Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass in the first round of the Golf Channel Amateur Tour National Championship. He qualified for the National Championship after winning four events this year in Oklahoma.
“I cannot get enough of it,” Cummings said. “All I think about every day is golf. All I care about it getting better.”
A few years after graduating from high school, Cummings moved from Wisconsin to Oklahoma to help a buddy run a motocross facility. He was there for five years before moving out to Lake Tahoe, Nev., for a stint. But when he moved back to Oklahoma in 2009, he was growing sick of motocross. Cummings felt that he had reached his peak and that all the hard work he was putting into the sport was not producing the desired results.
That’s when he picked up his sticks.
Since last July, Cummings wakes up early every day and is at the practice range at The Links when it opens at 7 a.m. He goes to work, then returns every afternoon to practice again or play as much of a round as he can before darkness falls.
Cummings recently closed down his self-owned detail shop to have more time to devote to the game. Now, he makes a couple bucks doing odd jobs that range from construction to work for his girlfriend’s father, who owns an environmental engineering firm.
He figures that he hits balls close to seven hours a day and the last time he went a day without hitting a golf ball was during Christmas vacation when his family and his girlfriend’s family both spent the holiday in Breckenridge, Colo.
“It was killing me not to be able to hit balls,” he recalls.
The ultimate goal for Cummings is to turn professional. He realizes that he’s new to the game and he knows that many scoff when he tells them of his professional aspirations, but he’s determined and has come a long way in a short time. A year ago he told his girlfriend, Suzy Stover, that he would be good enough to be a professional by the time he turns 35, which is four years from now.
“I know some people think I’m crazy, but this is what I want to do, I want to be a professional golfer,” Cummings said.
Last year, under the guidance of Champions Tour veteran David Edwards, Cummings never worked on his short game but only worked to improve his long game. This year, it’s been the complete opposite. Cummings hasn’t hit many drivers or long irons on the range, but has only chipped and putted to improve his short game, which he admits is still the weakest part of his game.
“I still need to be better at getting the ball in the hole,” Cummings says.
To assure that every waking moment would be devoted to game improvement, Cummings recently dug a 20-foot circle in his yard and filled it with sand to give him a target to hit from different distances. It serves as a green but the ball won’t release because of the sand. Cummings has measured distances from 25, 50, 75 and 100 yards away and has makeshift teeing areas where he can beat balls as much as he’d like.
During his first-round 85 here at the Golf Channel Amateur Tour National Championship it was his short game that kept him from scoring better. He made two birdies, two triples bogeys and needed 36 putts.
His caddie, Roland Lewis, recently played in the Senior National Championship here last week and stuck around to help Cummings with course management.
“He’s a pretty calm, relaxed guy,” Lewis said. “It’s unbelievable how well he swings it for being in this less than two years. He’s a natural.
“I’m just trying to get him to hit it at 70 percent and keep it under control. We’re playing for bogey on every hole and if we can do better than that, great.”
No matter what happens the rest of this week, Cummings wants to get as many tournaments under his belt as he can. He wants tournament pressure and realizes that he needs to put himself in these situations often to see how he performs.
So far, so good. Cummings says that he has broken 80 four times and that his career-low round is 75. All four sub-80 rounds have come in tournaments. He’s never broken 80 in a casual round.
“I’ll get there eventually, there’s no reason why I can’t” Cummings said. “I am working pretty hard at it.”