For Ryan McCarthy, a real estate firm accountant by day, golf is a gradually blooming side career masquerading as a hobby.
He worked his way to the U.S. Amateur golf tournament at California’s Pebble Beach in August, a feat only 312 worldwide competitors can claim every year, for a second time. He had qualified last month, leading the pack at Hayfields Country Club in Hunt Valley on a day of biblical storms in July. He had clinched his first berth in 2017, at his home course, Argyle.
“Couple years previous, I’ve been really close — shot here, shot there,” said McCarthy, 28. “Last year, being at the course I grew up at really helped, and then this year, just played well. It’s one day — you play well that day, you can punch your ticket.”
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He knows he’d missed that mark at this year’s U.S. Amateur, when he failed to make the cut for the match play portion of the event, shooting a two-round score of 156. He had scored better in the first round than the second, unlike last year, when he had notched 78 on both rounds for an, again, 156 total.
“You hope when the tournament starts up, you’re playing the best golf you can,” he said. “Didn’t play as well as I would have liked to either year.”
Even while McCarthy shot birdies at Loyola Maryland, he knew a pro career wasn’t in his future. He had a job as a certified public accountant squared away before he graduated. Tournament golf would be secondary, a bonus in his life.
That wasn’t the case for his younger brother, Denny.
“I kinda knew going into high school, throughout high school, that this was something I was probably going to pursue,” Denny said. “I played a lot of sports growing up, it's always really competitive, but golf was probably my best sport. I became really good at it at a young age.”
Denny, 25, was secured a spot on his first PGA Tour this season, just three years after an illustrious college career at Virginia. On top of winning two Maryland Amateurs and three Maryland Opens throughout school and afterward, he helped the United States team win the 2014 World Amateur Team Championships. After leaving the Cavaliers behind, Denny spent two years on the Web.com Tour, the proving ground for golfing elite.
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This year he’s posted four top-25 finishes and one top 10. Out of 22 events on this tour, he made the cut in 13.
Ryan has followed his little brother on the pro trail as a caddie for various tournaments in the past. Denny sees these moments as learning opportunities.
“I think that kind of experience, seeing how I handle situations at [United States Golf Association] events and tournament conditions, they can be really tough,” he said. “I think he probably had a good understanding of what a [U.S. Amateur] was like going into it.”
Without Ryan, Denny doesn’t know what kind of golfer he’d be.
“He's been a huge help to me, not only keeping me be competitive, keeping me driven,” Denny said. “Growing up, we played everything together. You name it — basketball, ping-pong. I don't know how you play one-on-one baseball, but we found out a way.”
In slivers of time between golf tours, Denny will come home and spar with his brother on the green. Since Denny started competing professionally, Ryan acknowledges his little brother got “pretty tough to beat,” even though, he said, he would usually get the upper hand from the time they were kids through college.
“I don’t quite remember it that way,” Denny said, laughing.
Denny spends most of the year on the road but calls his brother when there’s time. Back in Maryland, Ryan squeezes in nine holes when he can, usually after work and on weekends. He likes the summer, with its long days. In late-evening sunlight, he can play 18 holes. The goal is to keep a club on hand “as much as possible,” so that when there are tournaments he can make, he’ll be as ready as can be.
“When he doesn't play much tournament golf and then goes to something like the USAM, which is the global peak of amateur golf, it's an atmosphere where he's not used to it,” Denny said. “It's a tough situation to be put into, but at the same time, I think he embraces that challenge.”
There isn’t just one Ryan McCarthy in the leasing world — you’ll find one in Los Angeles and Houston, at least. There isn’t even just one Ryan McCarthy in golf — the Australian Ryan McCarthy plays golf professionally, and there’s another in his sophomore year teeing up for High Point in North Carolina.
Ryan is still carving a name for himself, though, and he feels he’s only getting better as the years roll on.
Loyola coach Chris Baloga can attest to his former player’s growth. Taking over the Greyhounds golf program in 2010, Baloga hadn’t recruited Ryan, who graduated in 2012. He remembers Ryan during that time, though, as “wild” — capable of hitting any shot but with a bit of a long swing.
“His swing has improved over the years as well. He’s a more consistent ball striker I would say,” Baloga said. “Putting, and such-wise, he was probably a little better in college than he is now.”
Without the burden of needing to succeed for high school or Loyola’s team, Denny said Ryan has struck a happy balance of a lack of pressure and an almost-biological desire to win.
“I know he wants to do it,” Denny said. “It's in everyone in our family's blood. Anything they do, we want to succeed at a high level.”
By booking two straight tickets to the U.S. Amateur, Ryan’s living his own kind of dream. Traveling cross-country to be able to walk a professionally manicured grass like his brother gets to do, and knowing he can do it on his own merit is validation.
“I felt great, just kind of finally breaking through to that high level,” he said. “I think of the whole USGA in really high light. You get to play awesome golf courses in championship condition. To get to be a good player, that’s what you’re always hoping to do.”