TEESSIDE golf professional Ryan Riley is off to South Africa as he embarks on a three-year plan to reach the bright lights of the European Tour. The 22-year-old from Eaglescliffe turned pro earlier this year after curtailing a golf scholarship to the US following a serious road accident.
Ryan, who represented County Durham at every level from the boys' team up to the senior men, has set his sights on the sport's main stage and devised a route that he believes will take him all the way to the top.
Ryan joined Eaglescliffe Golf Club at the age of 13 and had soon reduced his handicap to single figures. By the time he turned professional in March of this year he was playing off +2.
He had been hoping that his scholarship to the US would further enhance his game but he was left frustrated with the system and the weather on the other side of the Atlantic.
Ryan said: "I decided to go for a scholarship at the University of Missouri in Kansas City and things started really well. But the winters are really bad out there and so it became increasingly difficult to play.
"Also, there was a real Monday to Friday culture in operation, which meant we did lots of practice and playing in the week but the weekends were just dead. Everyone seemed to return home and so I was often just left alone and having to do my own thing.
"It was pretty frustrating as here in England we're used to playing every weekend."
But Ryan was unable to complete the third year of his studies after a serious car accident back in the UK.
Ryan added: "It was a pretty bad crash and I was left with a bad back that prevented me from playing for the whole of the 2007 season. I'd decided I wasn't going to go back to the US and so spent last winter trying to regain my fitness and working on sharpening my game with my coach Clifford Jackson, who was at Yarm driving range but has now moved to Seaton Carew.
"My mind had always been set on trying to make it as a playing professional and so it seemed the right decision to turn pro as soon as I could, which is why I took the plunge in March of this year."
Ryan is now working to a detailed plan that he believes will take him all the way to the European Tour - and hopefully beyond.
He said: "The professional game is so different to the amateur one. I've not been in the pro ranks that long but I've already seen how dedicated you have to be. Also, no one takes any notice of what you may or may not have previously achieved. Every week is like a fresh start; you pay your money and you start the tournament - everyone's equal."
Ryan has spent much of this summer playing on the Jamega Tour in the South of England and the Players Tour in Manchester, though he has also taken part in a couple of EuroPro events.
Soon, he will be heading off to South Africa to play on the Sunshine Tour, which includes three events that are now also part of the full European Tour. In the meantime, he's honing his skills in the competitive Teesside Alliance.
He added: "I'm just trying to build up my experience and get used to the new world I'm now playing in. I've learned a lot this summer and I was delighted to reach final qualifying for The Open championship. I really want to push on over the winter in South Africa.
"The Sunshine Tour is a very high standard and I'm really looking forward to it. It would be brilliant to qualify for the European tour events down there. If I can do that then I might secure a few more invites to the better tournaments.
"After that, I'd like to play on the Challenge Tour next summer. It's the best way to get on the European Tour as Rob Dinwiddie proved last year."
But playing in South Africa and on the Challenge Tour, which takes in events around the world, is costly and so Ryan is seeking sponsors.
He already has the support of former Boro footballer Lee Cattermole, who has just moved across the Pennines to Wigan Athletic.
Ryan said: "I've been friends with Lee for ten years or so as we were both Durham juniors. Lee is an excellent golfer as well as a Premiership footballer and we will be staging a number of corporate golf days that other sponsors can get involved in."
Ryan is also looking for other backers and anyone interested can contact him on 07984-584372.