For Spencer Ralston, the hardest part of his freshman season with the University of Georgia men’s golf team was managing his time.
The demands of the Bulldogs’ travel schedule — exacerbated by long trips to locales like Hawaii, Mexico and Puerto Rico — sometimes left the Gainesville High grad scrambling to sort out schoolwork. Meeting with professors before tournaments and planning weeks in advance were necessary for Ralston to stay on top of things in the classroom.
“When we went to Mexico, we missed almost a whole week of class,” he said. “You almost have to catch yourself up for a week or two before you go. It takes a lot of preparation. Time management was a little bit of a struggle at first.”
Once he got that figured out, Ralston’s freshman year went about as well as he could’ve hoped.
The former Gainesville High standout landed on the SEC All-Freshman Team and posted the second-best scoring average for Georgia in his first year on campus. A vital part of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Regional appearance, Ralston notched a top-12 finish in half of the team’s events.
None of that came as a surprise to Gainesville High boys golf coach Bryson Worley, under whose watch Ralston earned Class 5A Player of the Year recognition three times.
“I’m really not surprised by how well he performed,” Worley said. “As far as golf goes, he’s a talented player. The biggest challenge was school, travel and the demands of time management on his game.”
Time wasn’t on Ralston’s side for his U.S. Open qualifying rounds, either.
An alternate for the Memphis sectional, Ralston was notified Saturday night a spot had opened for Monday’s qualifying rounds. Ralston and his father Mitch made the nearly seven-hour trek Sunday, and he opted to not take a practice run on the course after the exhausting drive.
The three-time Hall County champion still shot a 70 and 71 over the two rounds, though he missed the cut in the highly competitive field by six strokes.
“I didn’t want to wear myself out playing practice rounds, but it didn’t matter that much,” Ralston said. “There are a lot of positives to take from the experience. I was watching the pros and everyone else’s games, seeing how they play and manage themselves on the golf course.”
His willingness to learn, even after making such big waves as a freshman, exemplifies what Worley deems one of Ralston’s best traits.
The way Ralston has handled success from a young age and always sought to improve his game led Worley to compare him to another former Gainesville High standout: Deshaun Watson, who quarterbacked Clemson to a national championship before becoming a first-round NFL draft pick.
“Outside of being really competitive — quietly competitive — he always wanted to learn,” Worley said. “He never thought that he was good enough, but in a good way. He’s always picking better players’ brains. … He’s a sponge, always wanting to learn things.”
Ralston applied that knowledge during his freshman year, finishing as one of only two Bulldogs to appear in every event.
The other was senior captain and first team All-SEC selection Greyson Sigg, whose season scoring average of 70.5 was just more than one stroke ahead of Ralston. They shared Georgia’s lowest single-round score of the season (64), with both producing that mark at the Ka’anapali Collegiate Classic on Nov. 16 in Maui, Hawaii.
It was the final event of the Bulldogs’ fall schedule, which Ralston said was the better half of his debut season in Athens. Though not disappointed with his performance in the spring, the four-year Gainesville High star said putting prevented him from playing his best.
“It happens,” he said. “It’s golf. It’s a day-to-day game.”
Georgia reached the NCAA Tournament but was eliminated in the College Grove Regional on May 17 in College Grove, Tennessee. Ralston still came away with All-SEC Freshman honors, which he hopes to build on when his sophomore season begins in a few short months.
“It was a pretty cool thing to hear, a good feeling to put that work in and know you got something out of it,” the Gainesville native said. “It was kind of one of my goals this year. It’s something to look back on and try to get All-American next year, but I’d rather do stuff as a team.”
The Bulldogs’ coaching staff expects Ralston to be a team leader going forward despite his youth, Worley said. It won’t be much different than his experience at Gainesville High, where he was named an All-State member in each of his four years and helped the Red Elephants win a state championship in 2013.
Ralston is back at his old stomping grounds of the Chattahoochee Golf Club this summer, practicing for the four tournaments he plans to compete in this summer.
He’s also providing guidance to his former Gainesville High teammates, guys Ralston frequently checked up on during his stellar freshman season, Worley said. Whether he’s giving tips on short game or tricky time management, Ralston is always willing to help out a fellow golfer.
There are, however, some bits of knowledge he might not be able to impart.
“Every stage where he got hit in the mouth, he has figured out a way to improve his game, improve himself and rise to the next level,” Worley said. “He has done that ever since he got started. He comes away saying, ‘I can do this, but I have to get better.’ You can’t teach that.”