Ryan Wallen assesses a putt during the 2A state golf championship tournament at The Champions Golf Course in Spanaway on Wednesday, May 25. Photo by Jerry Huls
When he led the state tournament after the first round last season, then-freshman Ryan Wallen was an unknown commodity around the state. After leading, Wallen slipped in the final round to finish second.
At the state tournament this season, the roles were reversed as the Blaine sophomore found himself trailing Interlake sophomore Andrew Kennedy by a stroke going into the last day.
On a day when the course became as much an opponent as the other players, Wallen finished a strong sophomore season and redeemed his loss last year by playing a nearly flawless round of 70 to win the 2A state individual golf championship at the grueling Champions Golf Course in Spanaway on Wednesday, May 25. Wallen won by an audacious seven strokes, with an overall one-under-par 143. He was the only golfer to break par.
Blaine’s Michael Andes missed the cut by a single stroke, shooting an 86 in the first round.
The diabolical difficulty of the course played as much a role in Wallen’s victory as his steady performance.
“Oh, I definitely played the course and not the other players,” Wallen said. “I was in the mid-80s in my practice rounds.”
Indeed, the course seemed to dent Wallen in the first round played Tuesday, May 24. After getting out to a fast start, including a brilliant 40-foot birdie putt on the fourth hole, Wallen inexplicably went bogie, bogie and double-bogie after landing in the water on hole eight.
Wallen dropped four strokes before recovering to surge on the back nine to finish the opening round with a one-over-par 73. On Wednesday, Wallen went par-birdie-par on the same three holes.
Perhaps the greatest testimonies to Wallen’s play and the difficulty of the course were the scores of the final group playing with Wallen.
At the beginning of the final round,Wallen’s playing partners Kennedy, Tumwater’s Kyle Schrader and Sehome’s Sam Reier were a combined six over par. By the end of the tournament, they were a combined plus-24.
“It’s definitely the most difficult course we’ve had for a state tournament,” said Blaine boys’ golf head coach Steve Barthlow.
“But that’s the strength of Ryan’s game. He doesn’t play with outer pressure.”
Wallen’s mature approach was exemplified when after a birdie on 13, he made his only mistake of the round, sending his fourth shot into the deep rough beyond the green on the par-five 14. He salvaged a bogie and then calmly rebounded with a birdie on 15.
“He didn’t let it get him down,” Barthlow said. “That’s what he did last year at state.”
While Wallen remained resilient, his playing partners seemed to wilt under the pressure of the course and Wallen’s cool shot-making. Though he tallied only three birdies on the day, Wallen’s round was replete with difficult medium-range pars that he consistently drained, soaking the hopes of his competitors as thoroughly as the light rain that persisted throughout the round. Wallen was also lifted by playing with the familiar face of Sehome’s Reier in the final quartet.
“I was really relaxed today, especially playing with (Reier),” Wallen said. “We’re good friends, and it’s nice to play with someone familiar. Even going down the stretch, in the back of your mind, you think someone may have finished with a really low round. You just have to keep the same focus every hole.”
However, like the District 1 tournament before when he won by nine strokes, no one was even close to Wallen.
Now the Blaine sophomore will be the subject of scrutiny from the golf community as well as major colleges – representatives from Oregon State and the University of Washington were on hand to watch his state triumph.
Wallen will now move on to a heavy summer schedule of junior golf, and he hopes to compete in the Junior PGA tournament in August in Fort Wayne, Indiana.