U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Looking Back: Charlie Rymer's 1985 Victory July 17, 2016 | Ooltewah, Tenn. By David Shefter, USGA

Charlie Rymer won the U.S. Junior Amateur 31 years ago. (USGA/Diane Chemko)

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Most people know Charlie Rymer as the gregarious co-host of Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” program, but long before his television career got off the ground, the Cleveland, Tenn., native won the 1985 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at Brookfield Country Club outside Buffalo, N.Y. Rymer, now 48, defeated future PGA Tour professional Gregory Lesher in 19 holes in the championship match. Following an All-American college career at Georgia Tech, Rymer turned professional in 1990. He won the 1994 Nike South Carolina Classic on what is now the Web.com Tour before a brief three-year PGA Tour career that included a third-place finish in the 1995 Shell Houston Open. Since retiring from tour golf, Rymer has made a name for himself in television, first with ESPN and then Golf Channel, which he joined in 2009. An honorary member of The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., site of the 69th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, Rymer was asked to speak at the Players’ Dinner on July 16. Before he spoke to the competitors, Rymer spent a few minutes with USGA senior staff writer David Shefter:

Is it hard to believe it has been 31 years since you won the U.S. Junior?

Rymer: I’m feeling old.

What do you remember about that week?

Rymer: I stayed with a great family. They took me to a great restaurant that started Buffalo-style chicken wings (The Anchor Bar), and I said this will never make it. That’s the only thing I messed up that week. One of the things I remember is [USGA staff member] Tom Meeks locking the doors in the clubhouse and giving us an amazing Rules seminar for a couple of hours. So I learned more about the Rules of Golf in that couple of hours than probably any other time. The big thing was where I was from in [Fort Mill], South Carolina (his family moved from Tennessee), we didn’t have grass. We certainly didn’t have rough. The courses I played on focused on irrigation around greens and tees. I remember seeing fescue rough there and the beginning of the week, I couldn’t get out of it. By the end of the week, I figured out how to approach it. I was a wizard by the end of the week.

Did you cruise through match play until the final match with Lesher?

Rymer: I don’t think I ever got to 17 tee [in my first five matches]. Certainly, I never got to 18. I was 3 up at the turn in the championship match and then I just folded. I ended up being the bad side of dormie on 17 and I had a [birdie] putt a little inside of 20 feet and it was a must-make. And somehow it goes in. I made a good par on 18 that won the hole, and then I won [on the 19th hole]. It wasn’t a pretty ending. I had a [par] putt to win outright and missed it. Then he missed a short one [for bogey]. It’s not the ideal way to win, but I guess I don’t feel guilty about it.

How has the U.S. Junior changed in 31 years since you won?

Rymer: It’s always been the tournament to win. The depth of players here is obviously really strong, but everything is relative. I would guess from the 1985 U.S. Junior, there were probably 10 players that ultimately got PGA Tour cards. Phil Mickelson played there. [Three-time PGA Tour winner] Robert Gamez played there. Greg Lesher got a card. I would guess 10 players got PGA Tour cards and I would guess there will be 10 players out of this Junior that will make the PGA Tour at some point. It’s always been the cream of the crop, and I don’t think that has changed over the years. You can go ask [five-time U.S. Junior competitor] Jack Nicklaus about it.

How did it change your life going forward?

Rymer: I had a good junior record, and I was going to go play college golf. It certainly widened the scope of schools that were available to me. It was really the icing on the cake of a good junior career. I had won state juniors … and that was probably something that let me win the U.S. Junior. I wasn’t like a longshot.

Did a few more colleges offer scholarships after your victory?

Rymer: It didn’t hurt. I hadn’t committed to Georgia Tech at that point in time. But I had quite a few offers. It let me get calls from Mike Holder at Oklahoma State and some other schools. I was offered the Arnold Palmer Scholarship at Wake Forest. I ended up being the very first recipient of the Bobby Jones Scholarship at Georgia Tech.

Now that you are approaching 50, does that Junior Amateur victory have more significance?

Rymer: The further you get away from it, the more meaningful it is. I’ll be honest, I won at every level I ever competed except for the PGA Tour, and I got within a shot of winning [there]. Somebody asked me to fill out a résumé the other day, and whenever I have to fill out [one], the first thing I put down is 1985 U.S. Junior champion. It’s very meaningful to me.

What advice would you give to the competitors this week?

Rymer: I’m thrilled I get a chance to talk to these kids. The big thing that pertains to golf is kids are so impatient and get so caught up in results and when I talk to successful business people or others who have had success in any area, they really don’t get caught up in results. They know what their process is and they stick to it. One of the mistakes I made is I looked too hard at the results and because of that, I was too critical of myself. You’ve got to have a long view and you’ve got to trust what you are doing and don’t bail out when you have a bad shot, a bad day, a bad week or a bad month.

Most people know 1985 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Charlie Rymer as the co-host of Golf Channel's Morning Drive program. (Jessica Danser/Golf Channel)

How close were you to ever winning a second USGA championship?

Rymer: Never close. In fact, I only qualified [for the U.S. Junior] one time. I played in a couple of U.S. Amateurs and didn’t make match play, and only played in one U.S. Open (1992 at Pebble Beach; missed cut). I was leading after six holes. I didn’t get a picture [of the leader board].

While your professional golf career might not have panned out the way you wanted, you have forged a highly successful career in television. How has that experience been?

Rymer: I feel like the opportunity to play golf got me ready for what I am doing now. I didn’t see that as a kid. I always thought I would play the PGA Tour and win tournaments. That didn’t pan out, but it’s been a real blessing for me to be able to work for some great companies in television. And the last six years I have been Orlando-based as studio talent, which has had me at home with my two boys and my wife (Carol). I’ve been able to limit my travel schedule, and had I continued to play, that would not have been the case.

How old are your kids and do they play golf?

Rymer: I’ve got a rising sophomore (Charlie Jr.) at Florida State who is 19, and a freshman (Hayden) at Missouri who is a [walk-on] quarterback there. They both play golf, but they are not super competitive. My oldest won a few tournaments and he loves golf and plays a lot. He’s the best golfer in his fraternity. They’ll both play golf their whole lives, which was my goal in introducing it to them. If they chose to get competitive, that was available to them. If you want to be competitive in golf, it has to be your choice. I think as parents, you just introduce them to the game and they go with it.

And golf is a game for a lifetime, isn’t it?

Rymer: Golf will change your life. The people you meet, the places you go, the friendships you build. That’s one of the reasons I am very passionate about growing the game, particularly with the kids.

When did you develop your great sense of humor?

Rymer: If you hit the golf ball as crooked as I hit it, you have to have a sense of humor. I think I actually come from a long line of crazy people. We have a lot of nuttiness in my family, which is good.

One final question: How did you get involved with The Honors Course?

Rymer: I was just starting my senior year in college and I had the opportunity to join The Honors Course as a junior member. They are very generous with the plans they have for younger folks and so I was able to be a member for 10 or 12 years. I just absolutely fell in love with the place. And as I got out on the PGA Tour and later into broadcasting I lived farther and farther away, so I ended up resigning [my membership] because I just couldn’t get here very much. I guess about five or six years ago, Mr. [Joel] Richardson, who is the chairman [for this year’s U.S. Junior], he extended an honorary membership to me. I’ve been fortunate to have quite a few honorary memberships, but to have an honorary to The Honors [Course] is one of the nicest things that’s happened to me in my professional life. When I come here, I don’t want to leave. It’s a great club with a big heart for the game.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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