Former North Kingstown standout eyes career in golf
When Ryan Southworth goes back to college in the fall, he will be expected to concentrate on one thing: golf.
Southworth, 18, is studying at the Professional Golfers Career College in Winter Garden, Fla. The school offers a two-year curriculum in “virtually every aspect of the golf industry,” according to Southworth, who estimated that only about 200 students are enrolled.
“It’s a very small school,” he said. Southworth is one of the youngest students, saying that most classmates are in their mid- 20s. Some have just finished up a stint in the military and are looking for a new career. Others have recently graduated from a fouryear college and discovered they aren’t prepared for the type of job they want.
About 5 percent, according to Southworth, come to the college directly from high school. “It’s for people who enjoy the golf industry or enjoy golf period, and would like to take it from a hobby to a career.”
Southworth started golfing at age 8. He says he’s been an athlete “forever,” also playing baseball, basketball and soccer growing up.
“I played just about everything,” he said. “My dad was the same way.” Southworth’s father, Glenn, played in a men’s softball league until his mid-40s when he “switched over to golf,” Southworth said. When he saw his father going to the golf course, he asked to tag along.
“I wanted to give it a shot,” he said. His younger brother, Adam, now a standout with the North Kingstown High School varsity team, also started coming to the golf course.
Southworth said it’s the challenge that keeps him interested.
“I’ve played just about every sport and golf is definitely the hardest sport of all,” he said. “It’s one of the only sports you can play extremely well one day and come back the next day and it’s gone. And you don’t know where it went, and you can’t get it back.”
Southworth could have opted for a four-year college with a professional golf management program like Clemson, but tuition at those universities runs into five figures. The professional golf college is more affordable than a four-year college.
He also didn’t want to spend time studying general education subjects. He still can continue his education, he said, but right now he’s determined to keep his focus on sports.
“If I’m going to go back to school, the only way I’m going to do it is if I’m playing for a golf team,” he said. “They do have golf scholarships, but they’re something you have to pursue.”
Southworth played on the 2011 North Kingstown varsity team that played for the state championship. That team came in second in the state championship, and the Skippers also won the division title three of the four years that Southworth was on the team. Individually, he made the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s All-State team two years in a row. Yet, when he was applying to college, no recruiters contacted him.
“I was first-team All-State my junior and senior years, so I was in the top six for individual golfers and I wasn’t approached by anybody,” he said. No question, he added, the Rhode Island location hurt his chances.
The top local high school golfers just don’t have scores as good as athletes in the South and Southwest, he said, where the golfers can play year round. As a result, college recruiters typically focus on players in Florida, California, Georgia, Alabama and other warm weather places.
He still might have landed a scholarship to play on a college team if he had gone after it, he said, and that option’s still a possibility. “You’ve got to take the first step and let people know you’re looking to be a golfer for a school.”
At college, Southworth plays 18 holes three times a week, at the same time he is learning about golf rules, sports psychology, and the dynamic of the swing. He has a couple of health classes, some English classes, and some courses that are government requirements. Otherwise, his schoolwork “is strictly golf,” he said, with courses on business, marketing, calligraphy (to create “artful” golf scoreboards) and teaching golf.
The school administrator arranges his tee times. He pretty much has to hit the links to stay in good standing. All his practice scores go to determine the tournament seeding at the end of the semester.
Southworth won the school tournament his freshman year. That tournament may have been the best golf he has ever played, he said.
The best round of Southworth’s life was a 3-under 69. To win the school tournament, he shot 71-74. Those scores were higher than his personal best, but the conditions were a factor at the tournament.
“It was on a tough golf course, and that 71 was the best I’ve ever played with competition and pressure,” he said. “I just went out and played one of the best rounds of my life.”
Southworth wants to become a professional golf instructor. He took this route to his dream job in the hope his career will bring him back to Rhode Island.
“I’ve lived on the island my whole life and I’d prefer to be able to stay here,” he said. He said that there are obviously fewer opportunities in the Northeast than in Florida, but he added that there are enough quality courses in the area that are hiring professionals for him to pursue. He aims to land a job and then work his way up. Southworth said practice and confi dence are the difference between success and failure on the links.
Southworth isn’t the only islander to enroll at the golf college. John Rafanelli graduated from the school in April. He earned his associate’s degree in golf management as part of a class of 35 students. Rafanelli is a 2010 graduate of North Kingstown High School who played on the varsity golf team with Southworth.