It is very uncommon to see a mid-amateur compete and contend on the summer elite amateur circuit.
It happens occasionally, like in 2019 when Canada’s Garrett Rank won the Western Amateur, but the reality is that guys with families and careers typically can’t hang with today’s skilled collegiate player for 72 holes.
That’s why it was refreshing to see Ryan Hybl compete at the Sunnehanna Amateur last month. Hybl led after the first round and was tied for the lead at the halfway mark, and although he fell back on the final 36 holes he still posted an impressive top-15 finish.
Hybl has had a fascinating life in golf. He was a can’t-miss junior player who quickly made a mark at the University of Georgia. He was a semifinalist for the Ben Hogan Award as a sophomore in 2002 and played on the victorious United States team at the 2002 Palmer Cup match.
Just as importantly, Hybl was as good in the classroom as he was on the golf course. He earned UGA’s Joel Eaves Award for the highest grade-point average for a male athlete entering his senior year, as well as the Dick Bestwick Award for the top GPA among graduating male athletes. He also won the golf team’s Howell Hollis Award three times for boasting the top GPA, all of which led to a prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship.
Jim Ahern, the former Titleist director of player promotions, remembers Hybl as a fierce competitor who was highly thought of by his peers.
“He was one of the most competitive players I saw in my career,” said Ahern, who held his post for 35 years before retiring this spring. “He had a great work ethic and a very high golf IQ.”
Hybl’s game slipped during his final two years at Georgia, as he struggled with fundamentals that led to a loss of confidence. As graduation approached, he was burned out on golf and preparing to get married. His heart was not in following the common path to professional golf. Instead, he returned to Georgia in 2005 and began a college coaching career as an assistant to coach Chris Haack.
Ryan Hybl has led the Oklahoma Sooners to postseason play every year since taking over, until this year’s COVID-19-shortened season. He has restored the program to national prominence, but Hybl is not satisfied.
He rediscovered his love for the game shortly thereafter. At the 2006 U.S. Mid-Amateur, he was the stroke-play medalist and lost an 18-hole final match to Dave Womack. That performance inspired him to reconsider the pro game. He raised money from investors and turned pro in 2008.
Hybl’s pro tour career was measured in months. A torn elbow tendon was the cause. He returned the money he raised and resumed his full-time coaching job. During his four-year stint (2005-2009) as an assistant at his alma mater, he helped the Bulldogs to four consecutive NCAA top-10 finishes, Southeastern Conference crowns in 2006 and 2009, and an NCAA East Regional championship in 2008. At that point, he was ready to run his own program.
Soon, the University of Oklahoma came calling. The once-prominent Sooners men’s golf program had been adrift and new leadership was sought. Hybl became head coach there in June 2009 and quickly turned the program around. During the next several years his team got better each season, culminating with a 2017 NCAA Championship victory at Rich Harvest Farms outside Chicago.
Hybl has led the Sooners to postseason play every year since taking over, until this year’s COVID-19-shortened season. He has restored Oklahoma to national prominence, but Hybl is not satisfied.
“We have a long way to go but we are getting there,” he said.
And he is getting there by being selective in his recruiting. His rosters are not loaded with AJGA All-Americans, but rather with kids like himself – competitive, high-IQ players with upside.
Hybl remained a professional during most of his Oklahoma tenure, but did not play in many state events. He got reinstated as an amateur in late 2018, and this summer’s Southern Amateur was his re-emergence in the amateur game. That was followed by his encouraging performance at Sunnehanna.
Don’t expect to see him on the mid-amateur circuit, however. For one thing, coaching college golf limits his ability to play in some of the more important events. But there is also that competitive streak to which Ahern referred. Hybl wants to play with the elite amateurs, the college kids he spends so much of his time with.
“I can still compete, and I am hard-nosed,” he said. “I just need to put in the time to get better.”
If he can remain injury free, there is no reason to expect otherwise.