O'Connor is on the upswing

Next time they won't overlook the skinny kid.

Ryan O'Connor, who spreads out 145 pounds on his 6-foot frame, might not pose an intimidating presence at first glance, but put a golf club in his hands and everything changes.

O'Connor, who will enter his junior year at Woodbridge High next month, schooled the field when he became the youngest golfer — at age 16 — to win the Tustin Ranch Golf Club's 2011 Club Championship in late-July.

O'Connor shot a two-round total of 156, rallying from a two-stroke deficit with a 76 in the final round to win by three strokes.

"I wasn't expecting to win," said O'Connor, who played on the boys' golf team at Woodbridge last year as a sophomore. "The first day I played OK (80), and the second day I beat everyone by four or five strikes. It was exciting. It definitely was different playing against people that were older than me."

O'Connor also placed third when he shot a 74 at the Kikkor Golf Championship at Mile Square Golf Course on July 26. And back in May, he won the Taquitz Creek Spring Classic with a 73.

His success is the result of a new mindset, a more mature approach.

"Last year I didn't get that competitive," he said. "This year I took the initiative to practice every day and I'm getting better. I'm excited about my progress."

Driving the ball is the best part of his game, even though one might wonder where he gets the power to hit it 295-300 yards with such a slight build.

"It's pretty surprising how far I hit the ball," he said, then gave an explanation. "Strong core, good swing, stay on one plane, have great torque."

He's improved his putting in the last year, but said his short game is still a work in progress.

"Sometimes I miss-hit from the fairway and then I need to get up and down," he said. "It's the weak link of my game right now."

O'Connor, though, is headed in the right direction. He plays at least nine holes every day, and "usually it's not just for fun. Every round I'm trying to improve."

On the weekends he'll play with – and against – his dad Tom, who is pretty good himself and provides some competition.

"It's a battle between us, but I usually win," he said. "If I don't play my game, he can get me."

Tom was the one who introduced O'Connor to golfing back when O'Connor was just 3 or 4 years old.

"My first set of clubs was a Snoopy set, there was a picture of Snoopy on the front," O'Connor said. "He'd always tell me, take the 5-iron and lay it flat, and I'd hit a flop shot.

"At first he'd take me out to 100 yards, then when I got bigger, it was 150 and then out to 200. By the time I was in the sixth grade, I started playing a full round, hitting from the red tees."

He has no problem playing from the black tees now, a big hitter who figures to hit longer and he fills out. And maybe some day he can tee it up with one of his two favorite pro golfers — Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

"I really like his swing," O'Connor said of McIlroy. "And he's so calm, so laid back."

O'Connor is just six years younger than McIlroy, and of course Woods had success at a young age, but O'Connor won't get ahead of himself.

"I do (want to have a pro career), but I still have a lot of improving to do," he said. "I'm just trying to do what I can, but first I want to get into college and get that started."

And there's two more years at Woodbridge, where he hopes to improve upon his first-round exit in the CIF tournament. He shot a 78 and cut was 75.

He said his best round ever was a 70 at the par-72 El Prado during a practice round earlier this summer, no doubt a sign of things to come.

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