BRATTLEBORO -- Ryan Kohler said he’s no natural when it comes to golf.
But many would argue the humble 28-year-old from Spofford, N.H., given the fact that in just five short years, Kohler has earned the right to compete in the USGA Public Links Amateur Championship, which starts Monday, at the Soldier Hollow Golf Course in Midway, Utah.
"I never had much of an interest in the game of golf. I was always more of a baseball guy," said Kohler, who while attending Keene State College, pitched for the Owls as a starter for three years and as a reliever for one. "I always enjoyed golf, but never competitively."
To qualify, Kohler finished at 2-under 142 for two rounds on June 20 at Bretwood’s North Course in Keene, N.H.
Though it is Kohler’s fourth year of competitive play, this will be his first time traveling to compete at the national level.
"I met Kohler three years ago when he became a member of the club," said Eric Sandstrum, PGA Professional at the Brattleboro Country Club. "He just kind of came in off the street and was looking for a place to hit a lot of golf balls. Since we’re one of the only clubs in the area that offers a yearly pass for the driving range, here he could hit as many as he wanted."
And Kohler does take advantage of the club’s offerings, where he has spent countless hours every week perfecting his game, in preparation for whatever comes next. But along the way, Sandstrum
"I started to set him up to go out and play with some of our other club members and he fit right in," said the PGA Pro. "He’s sort of shy, but really down to earth. Players who have come to where he is at in such a short amount of time often have big egos. But not Kohler."
After graduating college, Kohler moved back in with his parents. That winter, Kohler purchased a virtually endless supply of cheap range-balls over the internet and drove them in their backyard all season long. At first he said he kept slicing his shots into the woods, due to muscle memory from so many years of swinging a bat.
But eventually something clicked, said Kohler.
"Once I get hooked on something," he said, "I tend to obsess."
Beyond the small amount of time it took to get where he is competitively, what is more impressive about Kohler is the fact that he’s never had a single lesson; he is completely self-taught. "I’ve always had the hand-eye coordination, so that was a big help," he said. "That, and plenty of practice."
A self-employed graphic design and Web contractor for major media companies, Kohler said he always makes time to get his practice rounds in, and for that he said he is fortunate.
"Consistency is the hardest part of this game," he said. "It affects everyone from handicappers to pros -- you can get out there and have it one day, then lose it the next."
The first two days at Soldier Hollow consists of stroke play, Wednesday is the first round of match play, Thursday brings the second and third rounds of match play, and the quarters, semis, and final will take place over the weekend.
"Kohler plays well enough to know what he’s going up against," said Sandstrum. "Utah will be like a measuring stick for him. He’s got an extremely long, but controlled drive. He’s also got a good short game. Kohler really doesn’t have many weaknesses -- he’s a solid player throughout."
Past winners of the Championship include Tim Clark, Billy Mayfair, and Trevor Immelman.
David Aquino can be reached at email@example.com, or by calling 802-254-2311, ext. 164.