As Spencer Ralston looked down at the ball in the first tee box at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C. last Thursday, his mind was swirling with mixed emotions.
Nervousness, excitement and the satisfaction that comes with a lifelong dream finally coming to fruition consumed him as he prepared for his first ever shot on the PGA Tour in last week’s RBC Heritage. It was a tournament Ralston — a Gainesville High School graduate — had qualified for nearly a year earlier when he won the Players Amateur last summer, and he had been waiting for this particular moment ever since.
Ralston swung and hit the ball slightly into the rough on the right side of the fairway, but with it being a right to left hole and the wind coming in from the left side, he was pleased with the shot.
“I hit it pretty solid, so it was nice to hit a decent tee shot on the first hole,” he said.
It was the first of what Ralston said he hopes to be many in a PGA Tour event.
Ralston still has one year of amateur status left, and will compete for the University of Georgia golf team in the coming season, but hitting the links with the pros prior to turning professional himself was something he said will stay with him forever.
“It was an unforgettable experience,” he said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play a PGA Tour event. To have the ability to do it as an amateur, to kind of get that experience was a lot of fun.”
Ralston shot a 2-under 69 on his first day, followed by a 1-under 70 in Round 2. And while his -3 score through 36 holes was one shot off of the cut of -4 for the tournament, he said he was extremely pleased with the way the week turned out for him.
“I didn’t feel like I got everything out of each round, but to play my first two rounds on the PGA Tour and to shoot two under par rounds, you can’t complain about that,” he said.
Even outside of the official two rounds Ralston logged, he said his week at Hilton Head Island was a wholly successful one.
Things got off to an interesting start on Wednesday when he first arrived at the golf club’s driving range. Looking around, Ralston realized he was warming up with some of the best golfers in the world — players he had grown up watching on TV.
“It’s kind of cool to see all those guys on the range, preparing for a golf tournament just like you are,” he said.
Later that day, he and Andy Ogletree — a friend of Ralston’s who recently graduated from Georgia Tech — got to play a practice round with World Golf Hall of Fame member Davis Love III as well as Keith Mitchell, a former UGA golfer who recently turned pro.
Ralston said he and Ogletree both greatly appreciated Love — who has won the RBC Heritage five times — taking the time to get to know them and share a little wisdom from his 35-year-long career as a pro.
“That was kind of nice for him to take the time out of his week to play with us and let us watch how he plays the golf course,” Ralston said. “He told us some stories, and just kind of was really friendly with us. He didn’t have to do that, so I think that was really nice.”
By the time Thursday rolled around, Ralston felt fully prepared for anything.
Ogletree was in his group to start the tournament, and that, combined with the lack of fans, made the tournament feel almost like an amateur event to Ralston, calming his nerves.
He said he struggled a bit on short putts that he typically would have made with ease, but that he was overall pleased with the way things went. Missing the cut by a stroke stung, but Ralston did shoot better than Ogletree, who finished up at +1, the third member of their group, Canadian Michael Gligic (E) and even the much more experienced Love (-1).
Ralston said the difficulty of simply making the cut when every golfer in the field is so skilled was what made the biggest impression on him.
“Those guys play at a really, really high level, and it’s a grind just to make the cut,” he said. “If you make the cut, you played decent. If (the other golfers) hit a shot that’s not great and kind of out of play a little bit, they almost always found ways to recover and minimize damage. I think that’s the biggest thing that stood out.”
Ralston said that despite missing the cut, his experience at the RBC Heritage has done wonders for the confidence he feels in his game, and should give him a major boost going into his final year of collegiate competition at UGA.
Although he missed on a couple short putts he normally expects himself to make, Ralston was still right in the thick of things until the very end of Friday’s second round.
“Even not with my best stuff, I still had a chance to compete that week and play against those guys,” he said. “I think that’s something that will definitely help my confidence going forward.”