The ease with which Presbyterian Christian’s Davis Riley stepped onto the driving range at Canebrake Golf Club and effortlessly smashed one straight-and-true drive after another was nothing short of remarkable.
Almost as remarkable as the 17-year-old Alabama commitment’s humility about his own achievements on the golf course, including placing second in the 2013 and 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur Championships and earning four other Top 10 finishes on the junior tournament circuit in 2014.
“You can’t get too over your head about it,” Riley said. “There are so many good players out there, you’ve got to keep playing good. You have to get over yourself and just go out there and play.”
That’s a commendable attitude from such a young athlete, especially considering Riley is one of only 12 youth golfers in the country — six boys and six girls, all under 18 — selected to represent the United States in the 2014 Junior Ryder Cup. Riley and his teammates will compete against a European team of junior players Sept. 22-24 at Blairgowrie Golf Club in Perthshire, Scotland.
Joining Riley on the journey across the pond will be his two biggest fans ever since he picked up a golf club for the first time at age 3 — his parents, David and Kim Riley.
One or both of Riley’s parents travel with him to most of his tournaments, and both will be present at Blairgowrie for perhaps the biggest event of his young golfing career.
“My parents have been really supportive,” he said. “I feel like they’re in it just as much as I am. They love the competition.”
And no one is more proud of what Riley has achieved than his father.
“Only six (boys) in the United States get this opportunity every two years,” the elder Riley said. “It’s very difficult to make it. Five of the six players (for the boys team) are in the Top 10 juniors in the country in rankings.
“It’s never been done (by someone) from this part of the country before,” he continued. “So that’s pretty special.”
The list of past Junior Ryder Cup competitors is a veritable Who’s Who of the biggest names in professional golf. Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy competed for the European team in 1995 and 2004, respectively, while American golfer Jordan Spieth competed in 2008 and 2010. McIlroy, Garcia and Spieth will all be competing in this year’s Ryder Cup.
Davis Riley recognizes better than most the magnitude of the opportunity he’s received as a Junior Ryder Cup selection.
“It’s a real honor,” he said. “You look at past people who have played in it – all these great players who have played in this tournament – and you think, ‘Wow, not too long ago these guys were doing the same thing I am.’ “
This year marks the first time the Ryder Cup and its junior counterpart will be held in the same host country. In fact, Gleneagles, where McIlroy and company will be playing the Ryder Cup beginning Sept. 26, is only a few miles from Blairgowrie.
The Junior Ryder Cup competitors will be making the short trip on Sept. 24 to play a 9-hole match at Gleneagles, and will have the opportunity to meet some of the game’s top players.
And yet, despite finding himself in such prestigious company, Davis Riley has managed to maintain a humble outlook even as his game soars to greater heights.
“Most kids his age that play at the level he has (played) and does (play) are probably more arrogant and cocky,” said Delton Tyrun Pounds, Riley’s friend and fellow golfer for the last four years. “But he’s one of the most down-to-earth people and great golfers I’ve ever met. He’s wise beyond his years.
“It’s funny, because I just graduated from college, and it’s like I look up to him because he’s so good,” Pounds added.
Davis Riley’s humility may be an even greater point of pride for his parents than his golfing skill.
“I’ve had more people over the past 10 years come to me and talk to me about what a fine kid he is more than how good of a golfer he is,” David Riley said. “He doesn’t toot his own horn. It’s not his nature. He’s very humble at it, because as many tough events as Davis has played in, he knows you can’t toot your own horn in this business.
“I’ve always tried to tell him to stay grounded, because you could be on top one day and be way down the list the next day in this sport.”
And while he isn’t one to boast, Davis Riley has few complaints about his play heading into the Junior Ryder Cup to help the United States team in its bid to retain the Junior Ryder Cup it’s held since 2008.
“I think I’ve been performing well,” he said. “I’ve had, overall, a really good year up to now. And to cap it off with (the Junior Ryder Cup) toward the end of the summer is really sweet.”