Curtain Call: In striving for perfection, Ryan Lumsden first had to find patience
May 30, 2019
When Ryan Lumsden reminisces on his four years at Northwestern, one nine-letter word seems locked into his vocabulary.
Coming within one stroke of winning the individual Big Ten title during his sophomore campaign? Lumsden recalls the weekend’s “emotional” moments. Months prior when he won his first individual championship? Same word, different reason. And when his collegiate career came to a close as the Wildcats failed to make the cut for NCAA Championships, Lumsden called it an “emotional way to end.”
The Scottish international’s time at NU was marked by highs and lows, oscillating between spans of team-best performances and frustrating falters.
His final season was no different.
Lumsden started the year “on a high” after a summer trip to the U.S. Open, winning his second individual title and landing back-to-back Big Ten Golfer of the Week nods in the fall. This spring, aside from a bounce back performance at NCAA Regionals, Lumsden struggled and often finished toward the bottom of the scorecard.
Looking in from the outside, his play follows a similar pattern. But while golf for him hasn’t gotten any less emotional, his reactions have.
“I came in very expressive with the way I handled myself on a golf course,” Lumsden said. “If I played well, you could tell. If I played badly, you could tell.”
Coach David Inglis laughed.
“I wouldn’t disagree.”
♦ ♦ ♦
In his five years with the program, Inglis said he’s never coached a golfer who’s improved “on a steeper curve” than Lumsden.
And learning how to measure his reaction to missed shots and bad holes has been one of his biggest areas of growth, Inglis said.
“He was a mature person coming in, but he had a lot of maturity to gain as a golfer,” director of golf and player development Pat Goss added. “It’s all borne from a good spot — he really loves the game and really wants to be successful — but it manifested itself too often in a way that was too emotional and actually hurt his game.”
Lumsden said that always used to be a challenge for him — even before coming to NU.
The London native was only two when he first picked up a pair of clubs, he said, following in his dad’s footsteps. His father, a former professional tennis player, also played golf at the time — and Lumsden latched on to both sports.
Around age 12 though, Lumsden said he began to see more of a future in golf and directed his focus to the sport. Two years later, he was competing for the UK’s top-ranked Wellington College in golf and making an immediate impact.
That commitment to improvement was exactly why Inglis said he recruited Lumsden.
“You really got the sense that not only was he very passionate about golf and want to be a great player,” Inglis said of Lumsden’s visit to campus before his senior year, “but you could see he had some real drive and desire in him to be to make it happen.”
♦ ♦ ♦
When Lumsden arrived in Evanston, it similarly didn’t take long for him to start making a difference.
In his first college tournament, he finished 11-over-par, tied for 38th place and third on the team.
“He hit 16 out of 18 greens in regulation in the second round,” Inglis said. “On a U.S. Open golf course, he only missed two greens.”
Inglis said Lumsden has “always been blessed as a good ball striker,” but his short game and putting were clearly areas in which he needed to make strides.
When he couldn’t, the emotions came out.
“You can get to the point where one shot means too much to you, where you get frustrated and boil over. And that was certainly the case with Ryan,” Inglis said. “He had a lower threshold for some of the imperfections and poor shots that other people were a little bit more accustomed to.”
A year later, Lumsden would find himself contending for a Big Ten title — and his finish would ultimately come down to a single putt.
Lumsden had stayed within striking distance of first place throughout the weekend, and on the tournament’s final day, leader Illinois’ Dylan Meyer bogeyed and double-bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes.
After shooting a birdie on the 17th hole, Lumsden had another birdie opportunity with a 12-foot putt.
It landed just off the mark, and Lumsden tied for second individually.
“To come so close was obviously tough,” he said. “But it gave me a better mental approach to the game: I was a lot less frustrated and angry after I’d play bad rounds.”
Earlier, during the day’s front-nine, Lumsden knocked in a 21-foot putt for a birdie on the seventh hole. Meyer and Ohio State’s Will Grimmer — who finished tied for second with Lumsden — carded even-par on the hole, and the putt put Lumsden in position to narrow the lead.
That — and the other successes — not the final miss, is what he holds on to from the weekend.
“I remember just playing with a really calm mindset the entire week,” Lumsden said. “It taught me a little bit of value of being really patient. I didn’t really have to go out and make a ton of birdies that week, sometimes shooting one under par on tough golf course could be enough.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Through the ups and downs, Lumsden hasn’t struggled as much as his journey suggests. At least not if you go by the numbers.
Lumsden leaves Evanston holding the third-best stroke average in program history, trailing only former World No. 1 ranked golfer Luke Donald and Dylan Wu. He’s posted 20 top-25 finishes, eight in the top-5 and has won two individual titles.
After he was the fifth Cats golfer to be named as a finalist for the Byron Nelson Award earlier this spring, Lumsden became the first from NU to take home the honors. The Golf Coaches Association of America distinction recognizes a nominee’s “entire collegiate academic and golf career as well as his character and integrity while in college.”
Inglis called him one of the “most impressive” men he’s ever coached.
“He’s just such a huge personality,” Inglis said. “The new guys come in and he’s the first one to go over and welcome them.”
The two’s connection developed over time — and their Scottish upbringings only made their bond stronger.
“It was a fun relationship from the start,” Lumsden said. “We were obviously from the same place, and he’d give me some of the British banter from back home. It was great.”
Off the links, Lumsden hasn’t stopped playing tennis — he competes on NU’s club team — and also volunteers at a local elementary school. But his focus remains on turning professional after he graduates.
And now, Lumsden knows he has the disposition to make it there.
“I just understand what being a golfer is now. When I was younger, I just knew how to hit a ball and those types of things,” Lumsden said. “But now, my game has come back, and I have a better respect for what playing bad golf entails and how I can deal with that.”