If there exists one word to perfectly describe 41-year-old Ryan Armour, run-away champion of the 50th anniversary Sanderson Farms Championship, it could well be this: unflappable.
Two more adjectives that work: calm and collected.
A cynic might call Armour boring. And perhaps he was if you don’t like a guy who plays the percentages, hits the ball in nearly every fairway and onto nearly every green, makes a lot of birdies but doesn’t mind settling for par.
Said Brandon native and former Ole Miss golfer Jonathan Randolph, who finished third: “Every week on the PGA Tour there’s gonna be one guy who is just rock-solid.”
This past week, at pristine Country Club of Jackson, that guy was Ryan Armour, a career journeyman who, after many years of trying, journeyed to the top.
Consistent? He led or was tied for the lead after each day of the tournament. Calm and collected? From this viewpoint, he appeared a walking, talking advertisement for Valium.
Unflappable? When Randolph, the local favorite, fired a sensational front-nine 29 to loud cheers from the gallery, Armour, his lead down to three strokes and playing two groups behind Randolph, answered with a birdie-2 at the difficult seventh to instantly push the lead back to four. A couple hours and few minutes later, Armour tapped in a par putt on the 72nd hole for a five-shot victory, the largest since Mississippi’s only PGA Tour tourney became a full-fledged tour event in 1994. It equalled Frank Conner’s record margin of victory set back in 1988, when the event was still played in Hattiesburg.
The winds, often gusting until Sunday, didn’t bother Armour. Neither did colder than normal temperatures. When he made three straight bogeys on the front nine on Saturday, he more than made up for it with four straight birdies on the back nine.
“He’s a great player,” Randolph said. “He hits it low and hits a nice little draw that stays in the fairway. I knew he would be hard to catch today.”
This was Armour’s first PGA Tour victory, making him the fourth-straight first-time winner of this event and the fifth in the last seven years.
Even so, Armour breaks the mold. Most of the Sanderson winners have been young guys, some rookies, just learning the ropes of the PGA Tour. Armour, by comparison, is a graybeard with a receding hairline. When last year’s winner, Cody Gribble, was born, Armour was one of the best junior golfers around. Indeed, he led the 1993 U.S. Junior Championship by two shots with two holes to play before some kid named Tiger Woods birdied the last two holes and then won a playoff.
Nothing really has come easy for Armour since. He has bounced around on several different tours and has played only three seasons on the PGA Tour. His highest finish before Sunday on the tour that matters and pays most was a tie for fourth.
Sunday was more or less a pleasant walk in the park for Armour, proof positive of the old adage that goes like this: “Driving is for show and putting is for dough.”
Of the 75 players who finished the 72-hole event, Armour ranked No.74 in driving distance at just 264 yards per drive. Scott Strohmeyer, who played in Armour’s final group Sunday, averaged 314 yards per drive, half a football field per drive further.
Armour said that when he would get to his ball and look down the fairway at Strohmeyer, he would sometimes “just giggle.”
But Armour finished third in driving accuracy, third in greens hit in regulation and second in putting. That trifecta will win almost every time.
“This is a big monkey off my back,” said Armour, who added that the victory “means job security for a few years, which I’ve never had before out here.”
It also meant the largest check of his career: $774,000.
As always, the biggest winner in the Sanderson Farms Championship will be Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children at UMMC, which can expect a check in excess of $1 million from the proceeds of the tournament.