BILLINGS – Butte native Sean Ryan may have had the best idea of the year.
The Montana Tech graduate student decided he was going to play every golf course in Montana over the summer as a project for his masters degree.
When he made his way through Billings back in May, Ryan played a morning round of 18 holes at Yellowstone Country Club before wrapping up at the nine-hole Hilands Golf Club.
Ryan said afterward he was 27 courses in to the 104 he was scheduled to play. Naturally, the first question is how his body is holding up.
“The back’s not too bad,” Ryan said, smiling, “the knees are starting to feel it. The feet aren’t too bad. But there are worse ways to spend your summer than playing golf, right?”
And somehow, he’s still able to stick shots like one from behind a tree, 15 yards from the green, on his final hole of the day. It stopped inside two feet from the pin for a tap-in par save.
The 24-year-old is not just playing golf. He’s walking every course and, in 22 days, estimates he’s trudged 115 miles. He’s keeping track as part of his project.
But Ryan’s handicap was also less than a one when he teed off on this journey, so you know he’s keeping score.
“Yeah, I’m trying to keep track of my score,” he said, “but I’m obviously not trying to shoot the world’s greatest numbers because I don’t want to be hemming and hawing over putts when I’ve got to go play 36 somewhere else the next day.”
On this day his walk was only 27 holes, but, naturally, the local partners he joined (both in their mid-40s) were riding.
One of the cool caveats of this masters project is that Ryan partners with different players in every town. Wednesday Sean Ryan was playing with … Sean Ryan.
“So I was playing a women’s pro am at Yellowstone last summer as the pro with my aunt and a couple of her friends,” the Great Falls Ryan recalled, “and they had accidentally put Sean’s clubs on my cart. So I went in to try to figure it out and they said, ‘Oh, you’re not our Sean Ryan.’ And I said, ‘Well, I know that. You guys have a Sean Ryan?’ After the round I asked somebody, ‘So who is this Sean Ryan character?’ and they pointed toward the putting green where he was practicing.”
That’s where Sean Ryan of Billings met his match.
“I go hit balls about once a year,” said the Billings Ryan after finishing up Wednesday, “and I don’t know if my family was out of town or whatever the reason, but I went down to hit balls at Yellowstone and this guy comes walking out and says, ‘Are you Sean Ryan?’ And I said ‘Well, yeah, who needs to know?’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m Sean Ryan.’”
And nearly a year after they first met on that practice green, there’s your May 30 golf pairing. Two Sean Ryans, spelled identically right down to the middle initial (M.), plus an ‘up-and-coming’ tag along named Nate Royer.
It was easy for the elder Ryan to wonder why he hadn’t thought of this golf project in school.
“In all honesty,” he said, “I told him a 24-year-old kid doesn’t usually have that foresight to think, ‘This is my one chance to do it.’ The only time you think about that is when your 46 years old like me and say, ‘I wish I’d have done that.’ So kudos for doing it.”
“It’s been the best summer ever,” smiled the younger Ryan.