Ryan Vermeer wasn’t your normal 14-year-old golfer then, nor is he your normal 40-something golfer now.
The Omahan started his career with a flash — beating 13 of the 46 other entries in a U.S. Open qualifier at age 14, winning two Class A high school state titles, earning All-America status at Kansas.
More than a decade of chasing the pro tour dream later, Vermeer chose job security and became a PGA teaching professional.
And his competitive career began anew at 40.
In the past year, the director of instruction at Happy Hollow Club won the 2018 PGA Professional Championship for non-tour players, won PGA Professional Player of the Year honors, tied for eighth in his title defense of the PGA Professional in May and several weeks later at Bethpage Black became the first Nebraska Section pro in 60 years to make the cut at the PGA Championship.
Vermeer will be a gallery favorite at the Club at Indian Creek as he plays the Korn Ferry Tour’s Pinnacle Bank Championship presented by Chevrolet on July 15-21. Soon after the PGA Championship, the board of the Pinnacle Bank Championship awarded him one of its two no-restriction sponsor’s exemptions.
“What Ryan has accomplished on the golf course in the past 12 months is unprecedented in Nebraska golf history and he continues to perform at the highest level of his professional career,” said David Honnens, CEO of the Nebraska Section PGA and a member of the Pinnacle Bank Championship board.
At least two more Nebraskans will be in the field, Korn Ferry Tour members Scott Gutschewski of Omaha and Brandon Crick of McCook. Another could be the winner of the Indian Creek Amateur this weekend, who gets a sponsor’s exemption. Others could make it through 18-hole qualifying events Monday at Bent Tree in Council Bluffs and Wilderness Ridge in Lincoln.
What changed for Vermeer at 40? Why is he playing better than ever?
“The only thing I can think of is perspective,” Vermeer said. “It’s not my thing anymore. I don’t practice nearly as much as I would like to or as much as I used to. For whatever reason, that formula has been pretty good for me.
“I don’t know if when I was practicing before I tried too many different things or tried to get too perfect. Now I just kind of play. I can tell you I have more fun playing. That’s two-fold. One, I don’t think I have as much pressure on myself as I used to put on myself and the second is I’m playing good and when you are, it’s obviously easier to have fun.”
During his years playing mini-tours, with one mostly forgettable year on the Korn Ferry Tour (then the Buy.com circuit) a year out of college, he couldn’t turn a bad day into a good score. That’s changed.
“When I was off, I was off. I’d go out there and really struggle,” Vermeer said. “My best golf now is no different than my best golf back then. My game consistently now is just better. I can score most all the time because I don’t get into that much trouble.”
Vermeer’s rounds at the PGA were 70-74-72-79 in his third consecutive appearance. He said once he saw the course, he knew he was literally on familiar turf. Bethpage’s turfgrasses tee-to-green are common to the Midlands.
He had a surprise on the first tee of the final round. Happy Hollow’s general manager, PGA member Dave Schneider, was there as a PGA national director and announced Vermeer’s name before he hit his tee shot.
“Making the cut was a huge step in the right direction,” Vermeer said. “I was certainly disappointed with how I played the final round, but that said it was an unbelievable experience. I’m proud of the accomplishment. Not many PGA pros do what I did, so it says a lot, but more than anything it’s just confidence.
“It’s another thing I’ve done that I’d never done before. Now when I go to the next one, it’s something that’s more in my range.”
The Pinnacle Bank Championship is part of his loaded summer schedule. He missed the cut at the PGA TOUR’s Rocket Mortgage Championship in Detroit, where former Korn Ferry Tour player and Nebraska native Nate Lashley won for the first time.
He’ll come to the PBC from a week at the PGA TOUR’s John Deere Classic in the Quad Cities, then go from Indian Creek to the Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nevada. That tournament uses Stableford scoring on a course Vermeer said is scoreable in the higher elevation.
Last year, playing the Pinnacle Bank Championship on a special exemption he received from the tour for his PGA Professional win, he missed the cut by three strokes. He 3-putted for bogey from 8 feet on the next-to-last hole of his second round.
“I need to putt the greens better,” Vermeer said at the PBC media day, stressing each word. “Actually one of the guys I was talking to earlier was talking about there’s subtle breaks on these greens. Obviously I haven’t played as many rounds here as I have other courses in Omaha.
“Last year I felt I rolled the ball pretty good but I never really made a whole lot of putts. I hit the ball in this tournament every bit as good as I needed to play all four days, but I just did not get the ball in the hole. It was constant 2-putt, 2-putt. You have to hole putts to compete.”
The Pinnacle Bank Championship has a home at Indian Creek through 2024 after the course and tournament agreed last month to a five-year extension.
“For anybody in Nebraska who’s a golfer, to have a tournament like this they can watch and be a part of, it’s huge,” Vermeer said. “Even if you’re not a golfer, to come out and be entertained by something you normally don’t get to do, I think that’s cool as well.
“This is the place in Omaha that competitive golf should be played.”
The Nebraska 100: Our greatest athletes
The Nebraska 100, originally selected in 2005 and then updated and re-ranked in 2015, came from a pool of nearly 500 names from the ranks of high school, college, amateur and professional sports from the past 140 years. Assistance came from a panel of veteran sports observers from across the state, with the newspaper's sports staff determining the final rankings.