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Gainesville's Spencer Ralston busy preparing in California for US Open at Torrey Pines
Former Red Elephants, University of Georgia standout playing in second pro event, first major
Spencer Ralston
Gainesville High graduate Spencer Ralston, right, plays June 7 in US Open qualifying in Atlanta. Photo courtesy Spencer Ralston

If Gainesville’s Spencer Ralston has any nerves or apprehension about playing in the US Open, he surely isn’t showing it. 

Bright and early Monday morning, the former Red Elephants standout was getting his day going in San Diego, his second in southern California in preparation for his first major appearance. 

The 23-year-old who recently completed his playing career at the University of Georgia, Ralston, is one of 10 amateurs to qualify in the field of 156 players at Torrey Pines, which is just north of San Diego. 

This week, Ralston will be in the same pool with the top golfers in the world. 

And a good weekend will certainly propel him into his professional career with a shot of adrenaline that he can play with the best in the world. 

First-round play will is Thursday. 

As of Monday, Ralston doesn’t yet know who he will be paired with, but is more focused on his own poise and will avoid the pitfalls of being star struck with being on the course with guys like Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. 

“I got here Saturday, and I think it’s going to feel more surreal each day as we get closer to the start,” said Ralston, who qualified by shooting a 9-under par over 36 holes last Monday in Atlanta. “I think it will hit me as more and more people show up to start practicing.”

As soon as the sun set on qualifying, and news spread fast through Gainesville that Ralston was going to play in the US Open, it had a swift ripple effect around town. 

Ralston said that his phone had well over 100 messages from friends, family and supporters who were all elated that the 2021 SEC runner-up would have a chance at one of the four biggest golf tournaments in the world. 

“This is so exciting for our family,” his father, Mitch Ralston said. “We’re all pumped up about it and will be there to support him.”

On Tuesday, Mitch and Lisa Ralston, and Spencer’s three siblings Reeves, 24, Anna Mitchell, 17 and 15-year-old Brigham will be making the cross-country flight out to San Diego to prepare for the first of what they hope is many major appearances for their son and brother, respectively. 

Also traveling to southern California to watch Ralston compete are his cousin, Dr. Sims Griffith, and another close friend Drew Wright. 

Spencer’s father said they will all be standing by on the No. 1 tee box when he is introduced to the crowd, makes his first drive and then they’ll all stroll the 18-holes, on the course along the Pacific Ocean where it is projected to be 74 degrees for the first of four rounds. 

It seems everyone remembers exactly where they were last Monday night when they saw that Ralston earned one of the necessary top-five spots at the Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta. 

Twitter and social media were a stream of celebratory messages directed toward the even-keeled golfer.

Tied is a pack of four for fourth place after a bogey on the 17th hole, Ralston rolled in a 35-foot putt for birdie on the 18th to finish tied for third and punch his ticket to the US Open. 

Ralston’s coach at Gainesville High Bryson Worley, who is now men’s coach at the University of North Georgia, was working a youth camp at the University of Georgia and celebrated on the spot with Red Elephants assistant coach Kevin Brown. 

“We were eating dinner there and as soon as we saw Spencer did it, we just started high-fiving and hugging right there,” said Worley, who first started working with Spencer when he was about 8 years old. 

Then, Ralston came back to Athens on Tuesday, to tie up some loose ends, and share some time with those men who supported him along the way. 

“I’m tickled to death for him,” said Worley. “Hopefully, this is the first of many to come.”

Mitch said his entire family was waiting at home, checking for updates during the evening and certainly riding the wave of emotions as it came down to the wire in qualifying. 

Spencer knocked in a birdie on the 16th hole, shortly after 6 p.m., which put him two shots clear of the cut off for fifth place. However, the bogey on the next hole made it a razor-thin margin, once again. 

They could barely handle the sense of not knowing, so Spencer’s mother asked the family to turn off the television, which was locked on the Golf Channel, and circled together for a prayer. 

Then, they refreshed their phones to check the leaderboard and the best news of all came through: Spencer finished with a birdie putt on the last hole. 

Ralston’s best hole of the day was an eagle on the par-5 sixth hole, using a 3-wood off the tee and again on the fairway. His second shot came to rest about 20 feet from the cup, which he drained.

After it was over, Spencer’s father said a family friend burst through the front door as an impromptu celebration took place with smiles and tears of joy. 

“We just had a little party right there,” Mitch said. 

About 10 minutes later, Spencer’s father received a text message confirming the good news and they exchanged a few text message to express the joy of the moment. 

After leaving Athens, Ralston got in his car and drove down to Sea Island late last week to get in a couple rounds and make copious shots on the driving range. 

It was good practice time. 

Ralston said it was also good to have a little time for reflection — the calm before the storm and pressure of playing at the US Open. 

Ralston, playing in his second professional event (RBC Heritage, 2020) got out and played Torrey Pines on Sunday, but didn’t keep score. 

Spencer said he was focused on club selection and working through different scenarios. 

Mitch said his son’s experience playing well in a PGA event last summer on Hilton Head Island, S.C., missing the weekend cut (4-under par) by only one shot, will bode well for his confidence on the tight fairways and tricky greens of Torrey Pines. 

“I think that experience last summer helped Spencer a lot and showed he belonged out there with those guys,” Mitch said. 

When asked, Spencer’s father said he did see his son’s potential to play on the big stage at a young age. 

In fact, Mitch and Worley both pointed out, without being probed, that Spencer was a kid who never had to be told to practice. 

At about age 8, Mitch recalls Spencer being dressed and ready in the summer for a ride out to the Chattahoochee Golf Club, as early as 7 a.m. Worley recalls the young Ralston, always eager to get on the course, would call at an early hour to see if he could meet him for some instruction. 

“I can still remember that high-pitched voice of Spencer calling me in the morning, asking me if I can meet him out at the course,” Worley said. 

Worley said he would love to make it out to San Diego, but will stay near home with it being Father’s Day weekend and also recruiting obligations. 

“I’ll be glued to the television and refreshing my phone constantly to check the leaderboard,” said Worley, who coached Ralston in high school from 2013-2016.

Spencer’s father credits the golf culture that Worley created at Gainesville High for his success at the University of Georgia and a smooth transition on to the PGA Tour. 

“We were blessed with the support Spencer received at Chattahoochee and the support for the junior golf program,” Mitch said. “Coach Worley took that program to a new level. He really ran it like a college program. So, when Spencer got to college, he was ahead of the other kids.”

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