When Ryan Moore’s golf swing rises and falls effortlessly and efficiently — when shots track right down the target line — the Puyallup product tends to think back.
Of course, his mind races right back to 2004. He was in college at UNLV.
His routine was simple: Hit few range balls, win lots of tournaments — and he did, sweeping the summer tilt of major events, including the NCAA title, the U.S. Amateur Public Links and the U.S. Amateur.
He often says those were the days of pure ball-striking.
“We always bring up the past. Everything was going right — he was hitting the golf ball in all the right place, and he won all those tournaments,” said Troy Denton, a former UNLV teammate who now is his full-time instructor.
“He does swing it better now, that is for sure. I mean, he wasn’t playing courses like he is now. The PGA Tour is hard and he is getting that confidence back and feeling back that he can win everything.”
Moore ventures into his favorite week of the season — Masters week — at the course he reveres the most, Augusta National Golf Club. He has played well at Augusta, making the cut in all five of his appearances.
Never has his form been better heading into the year’s first major championship. Moore has made nine of 10 cuts this season, including a win at the CIMB Classic in October. In the tour’s all-around ranking, which measures tee-to-green and putting statistics, he is 10th.
And he is coming off two weeks of rest and preparation back home in Las Vegas.
“I just wanted to take my time and go play (the Masters),” Moore said. “I did not want to play a tournament then cram all of this practice stuff in right before.”
Everyone seems to think the Masters is a putting-over-ridges-and-down-slopes contest. Considering how severe the greens are at Augusta National, putting well is a must.
But the man who ends up leaving with the green jacket usually is among the leaders in another category — greens hit in regulation.
“But it is where you hit it on the greens,” Moore said. “There are such big slopes, you don’t want to get behind a 4-foot ridge and have to putt. Distance control is so important — almost more so than hitting the green.”
Up until this season, the best Moore has been at hitting greens in regulation since he turned professional nine years ago has been at a 66.7 percent clip — 12 out of 18 greens per round — in 2010.
Five times, he has finished outside the top 100 in that category — and never been better than 60th.
But in 2014, he has been one of the best precision-hitting golfers on the PGA Tour. He is up to 71.24 percent, which ranks ninth on tour. It also means he is hitting one more green in regulation than his finish in 2010.
Now you might ask — is that really a big deal? Given Moore’s good putting pedigree, yes, it is.
So why the uptick now at age 31? Denton said he believes the two of them have a “good system for practice,” and it starts with extensive work on the wedges and goes up.
“That has made his irons better,” Denton said. “Once he gets that feel, he is amazing at repeating it.”
In the past, when Moore has had an off round — his 81 in the third round of last year’s Masters would qualify as such — he has talked about being a hair off in body positioning in his setup.
Improved conditioning, Moore points out, is a bigger reason why he has carried over strong play week to week.
“The biggest part of the battle has been getting myself in better shape,” Moore said. “It allows me to be more consistent every day on the course. The setup feels consistent. I have not had too many of those days where I have not felt right.”
In August, Moore started going to Las Vegas-based CrossFit trainer Jason Harper. During weeks off, the Cascade Christian High School graduate usually is up and out of the house by 6 a.m. and down to the gym for a 90-minute workout.
“I was to the point I needed to do it and take it seriously,” Moore said. “I have to make myself roll out of bed and do it first thing so I don’t let myself make an excuse not to go.
“We do a lot of different stuff. And he kicks my butt every single time.”
On the road, Moore says he scales back the workouts, which usually are cardio-based, to 45 minutes to an hour. He has dropped 18 pounds in six months and is down to 180 pounds.
“I am not too far from where I want to get,” Moore said. “I am just being reasonable. I haven’t done any crazy diet and worked out to lose all this weight. I’ve tried to do it as a nice, slow process.
“I want to enjoy my life, and that is why I work out as hard as I can and then be more relaxed. I want to go out for a nice meal — eat pizza or a burger. I want to enjoy those types of things, so I am letting myself get to the weight I land at.”
Denton notices the difference when the two work together on the practice range.
“It’s just about being athletic again,” Denton said. “As we get older, we all let it slide. But if you are a golfer and do that, you are not going to play better.
“The workouts he’s doing, it is more full-body movement stuff and not just golf-specific. He is training to be stronger.”Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 todd.milles@ thenewstribune.com