By Gideon Rubin
Like most of his elite golfing peers, Torrey Pines High’s Ryan Burgess hopes to someday play on the PGA.
But he’s prudent enough to also be working on a Plan B, and Burgess, a RSF resident who last year accepted an offer to play Division I golf at Southern Methodist University, plans to pursue a degree in business or finance — just in case.
“I’ve always been interested in the stock market,” he said.
It doesn’t take a finance degree, however, to know that these days Burgess’ golfing stock is going through the roof.
Burgess was already considered a rising golf star in amateur circles before elevating his elite status last month by winning his first American Junior Golf Association title.
Burgess won the Under Armour/Hunter Mahan AJGA Championship, held April 13-15 at Gleneagles Country Club in Plano, Texas. Burgess fired a 6-over-par 182 (75-70-37) to win the boys’ division by three strokes.
He counts the title among his career highlights, right there with signing with SMU in November, and helping lead the Falcons to a state championship last year as a junior.
Burgess is ranked No. 74 in the most recent Golfweek/Sagarin polling of high school seniors.
Burgess said he’s played in more competitive fields, but that he’s never been atop the leaderboard of a high impact tournament before the Hunter Mahan event.
It was especially sweet for him because the title came within just 20 miles of Dallas, where he’ll be playing collegiate golf at SMU.
“It meant that all the hard work paid off, that I’ve improved and that I’m continuing to improve and learning to handle the pressure,” he said.
Torrey Pines coach Chris Drake described Burgess as a humble, level-headed kid with a tremendous work ethic and aptitude. He added that Burgess hasn’t let winning the prestigious title get to his head.
The AJGA title has, however, brought an enormous sense of pride to his Falcons teammates, and boosted Burgess’ already formidable stature in amateur golf.
“For Ryan, it’s one more notch towards what he’s working for,” Drake said. “It puts him on the radar for others to recognize that he’s an up-and-coming player and a force to be reckoned with.
“It might have a direct impact on the rankings at SMU (next season). We’ll see.”
Burgess has emerged as a quiet leader, Drake said, noting his unflappable demeanor is ideally suited for high-pressure golf. His work ethic has commanded the respect of teammates.
Burgess practices up to seven hours a day when he’s not playing, and has maintained a GPA above 3.6.
He believes his ability to keep his cool on the course to be among his greatest golfing assets.
“I’d like to think that I have a fairly good mental game,” he said. “When I’m on the course in tournaments I know it’s not the end of the world. It’s just another round of golf.”
Just as important is his passion for the sport that drives a tireless work ethic.
“Nobody has to ever tell me I need to go practice if I have a tournament coming up,” he said.
Burgess acknowledges that his golfing development hasn’t always been easy, and maintaining his confidence is a constant struggle.
But he got a huge shot in the arm just before the start of his junior year. It wasn’t until Sept. 1 of last year that colleges were allowed to make recruiting inquiries.
“I thought I might be able to play (college golf) but I really wasn’t expecting anything,” he said.
Burgess received 10 emails within the first few days.
“That’s when I realized I’m going to play college golf most likely, and that it could go further from there.”
Burgess has been playing golf since he was practically a toddler and has been on the tournament circuit for six years.
Burgess credits his parents, who are both golfers, with getting him on the course at a young age. He cited his mother, Mickey Burgess, who played Division I tennis at Butler University, with helping instill in him a competitive spirit.
Burgess grew up in Princeton, N.J., moving to Rancho Santa Fe when he was 10. He primarily played youth basketball on the East Coast, transitioning to golf when he moved to San Diego County.
He says he prefers competing in an athletic endeavor in which his failures don’t affect anybody but himself.
“You kind of feel guilty if you take the last shot and you miss or if you don’t play well, you feel like you let the whole team down,” he said. “If I play bad in golf I don’t feel like I let anybody else down.
“It’s just me. Nobody’s really yelling at me to play harder defense. It’s only me trying to motivate myself.”