Nearly a decade into his career, Ryan Moore has yet to get his hands on one of the PGA Tour’s four major championship trophies. However, the Las Vegas resident can at least lay claim to the next best thing: A year ago, Moore—the most decorated golfer in UNLV history—shot a course-record-tying, 10-under-par 61 in the opening round of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin, and rode that hot start to the tournament title. That his second career PGA Tour victory came just a couple of weeks before the birth of his first child was even more cause for celebration. “It was just an amazing October,” says Moore, who will try to defend his title when the Shriners Open returns to TPC Summerlin on October 17-20. “This is the one tournament I would’ve played forever until I won it—the one I wanted to win almost as much as any other. I think any of us UNLV guys feel that way about it.”
You learned the game from your father at an age when most of us barely know how to walk. Do you remember what the appeal was early on?
I wanted to be like my dad, and as soon as I could pick up a golf club and carry it around and hit shots—I walked around my house with a club in my hands at all times.
I played a lot of other sports—baseball, basketball, soccer. But golf had a different place in my mind. Maybe it was the individual aspect of it—it was all on me; it was all on my shoulders, and there was a part of me that liked that. I didn’t have anyone else to blame. Either I won or I didn’t, and if I didn’t, it was my fault.
At what point did you know that you could really play the game?
When I was 11, I played in my first tournament, and to that point I had never played with anybody my own age. The first hole we played was like a 250-yard par-4, and I drove the green—I used to hit it a long way when I was a little kid because I played baseball, and I just ripped it, just hit it as hard as I could—and two-putted for birdie. I didn’t know if I was any good at that point—I had no clue. I had only played with my dad.
I won the tournament, and I was like, “Ah, this is kind of fun. I like this.” Obviously, I didn’t win the next tournament. Or the next one. Or the next one. Still, from that point on, I was hooked.
As a junior at UNLV in 2004, you won every significant amateur title, including the U.S. Amateur and NCAA championship. Nearly a decade later, do you appreciate those accomplishments more than you did at the time?
Oh, absolutely. It’s kind of funny in that I played with Tiger at the final round of the [Deutsche Bank Championship in September], and he was asking about my amateur days, “Man, did you win this one? Did you win that one, too?” To have someone like that who noticed and remembers that 10 years later, that means you had a pretty spectacular year. Obviously, it’s hard for me to live up to it professionally, unless I have a year in which I win a couple of majors and a few other tournaments.
Speaking of majors, the Masters, the British Open or the U.S. Open—what’s the most challenging, and which do you most want to win?
Challenging, it depends on the conditions. The U.S. Open is generally the most difficult. The British Open, it just depends on the setup and the wind—so many factors; it can play really easy depending on what happens with the weather. As far as the one I want to win, probably the Masters. There’s just something about that place—I love the event, I love the course. And if you win it, you get to go back every year. That’s nice.
Most important attribute for a successful golfer: physical ability or mental toughness?
Well, there’s a certain balance of both. If you don’t have the physical ability, it doesn’t matter how good you think around the golf course if you’re not hitting good shots. [Laughs.] I’m usually pretty good mentally, but if I hit a terrible shot, it’s not going to help that I was mentally focused. But once you get to this level and you physically have the gifts and talents to win golf tournaments, it’s definitely mental at that point—just being able to stay composed and make good decisions for 72 holes, and you’re out there all day long, a lot of times in severe heat and humidity. It’s hard to explain how tired you are by the end of a four-day event.
What’s the best advice you can give to the 20-handicap weekend duffer who just wants to get down to, say, an 18-handicap?
Hit more club. I play in pro-ams every single week, and the one thing in common [with amateurs] is everybody comes up short, all the time. Just because you’ve hit your 8-iron 160 yards one time doesn’t mean that’s how far you hit your 8-iron every time. … You actually probably hit it more like 145 yards most of the time. So [expect to] hit it 145. If you happen to hit it over the green a couple of times, that’s OK; that’s not going to kill you. Coming up short every time, that’s going to kill you.
Good advice—well, that and put down the beers, right?
No, absolutely not. Have more beers. Enjoy it. Golf is for fun. Don’t take it too seriously.