31 Aug 2023 | Amateur golf |

A player for the ages

by Martin Blake

Gary Ryan image
Gary Ryan on the tee at Port Pirie, where he is 12-time club champion.

Gary ‘Red’ Ryan, Port Pirie’s reigning club champion, was already a legend of golf in that part of the world before he started shooting his age on the golf course.

But he’s done it at least 27 times now … and counting.

Shooting your age is one of those feats that is possible for an exclusive few. Greg Norman has done it in recent years, so the story goes, and out in clubland there is the odd story of a 70 or 80-year-old player who has kept his or her game in sufficient shape to manage it.

But it’s rare, because there is only a small window when it’s possible.

For Gary Ryan, it came in 2019 after he’d returned to the game from a few years out with injuries – a back problem and sight issues that required surgery.

Ryan is 70 and still playing off a plus-one handicap. Which means if he can shoot 70 or better, he has broken his age.

Having done it for the first time in June 2019 – he shot a 67 at the par-71 Port Pirie at age 67 -- he just keeps on doing it.

This year alone he’s done it 11 times, including a pair of 68s earlier this month.

Soon, he will turn 71, and he is not showing signs of slowing. “As it (age) gets higher, the easier it gets I suppose,” he laughed. “If that’s how it works…”

Ryan, a 12-time club champion, plays at least three times a week, including with the veterans. He plays in a cart, but there’s a story behind that.

More than a decade ago he gave up the game, battling a back injury that kept flaring, and with his eyes deteriorating.

The back was a menace. His day job – as a controller at the local smelter --- meant that he had spent years sitting in a chair all day. “I’d play a couple of holes it would seize up,” he said. “So I gave it away.”

He was in his 50s and his eyes were another issue. “I couldn’t see the ball take off at all,” he said. “I’d play with the guys and hit it, and I’d say ‘where did that go?’ I just had no depth perception.”

Four bouts of surgery on both retinas corrected his vision problem, and an exercise regime for his back turned it all around to the point he started playing again a few years ago.

Five years after he felt that he’d hit his last golf ball, Ryan came back to the game. “My mate said, ‘come out and get a cart’, so I got a cart with him. There’s not way that I could walk 18 holes, but I thought ‘I’ll have a go’.’’

His handicap had gone out to 4, but he worked on that, got back to scratch and then beyond. “I still get sore,” he said. “I take some anti-inflammatories now before rounds. But my back’s fine. It’s just a muscular thing. The X-rays don’t show anything in the vertebrae. I just get there and touch my toes a few times, have a couple of swings and away we go. I’ve always done that.

“I need the cart. I tried playing 18 holes and walking a couple of months ago and by the time I got to the 18th I was seizing up and having spasms in my back. By the end, I was done.”

Gary Ryan is the embodiment of the notion that golf is a game for life.

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