A Champion's Focus

Ryan ThomasRyan Thomas and his Road to the National Championship

At the age of three Ryan Thomas was diagnosed with autism, a condition that has curtailed his ability to communicate, drastically shortened his attention span and made it difficult for him to focus on everyday tasks.

But on the golf course, Thomas is just like you and I, in fact, hes probably better. The 21-year-old has been married to golf since the day he joined his father, Dan, on the lawn of his family’s old home in Maryland and began imitating his dad’s swing with a plastic set of clubs.

The game that had already provided so many positives for Thomas and his family recently allowed the former Naples High School golfer to live out another one of his dreams, if only for a few short days.

By virtue of his three consecutive Florida state Special Olympics Championships, and a bit of due diligence completing the necessary paperwork by mom and dad, Thomas was able to compete in the national Special Olympics tournament at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie this October.

Due to his educational limitations, Thomas will never be able to fulfill his goal of playing golf for the University of Tampa. He is now focused on playing professional golf, in particular, the Nationwide Tour. His mother Jaime admits it will take a lot of work to meet that dream, and in reality, it too might fall by the wayside.

But at the national tournament Thomas, who has carried a handicap as low as 10, competed in the top flight, finishing fourth overall, and was treated just like a pro. For the first time in his golfing career, a caddy carried his bags and he walked the course.

Ryan Thomas“He was really blown away,” said his mother Jaime. “He felt like he was an amateur tour player because of the way that they treated him and took care of his clubs. He thought that was really cool; he’d never had that type of thing before.” Thomas’ father and uncle served as his caddies for the event, but it was an injury suffered by his dad, who doubles as his playing partner, that caused a bit of concern leading up to the tournament.

His father suffered a nasty cut on his foot during the summer, which discouraged Thomas and limited his ability to prepare for the event. He went from playing nearly seven days a week to just one. But his desire returned, and his dads injury healed, and Thomas ramped up his preparation leading up to nationals. He was again strategizing, studying the golf course online and working tirelessly on his game; even putting in his bedroom at night.

After the national tournament concluded, it was clear that his confidence was back.

“I got my head in the game,” Thomas, who trounced the field and won by 34 strokes to capture his first state Special Olympics tournament, told his mother.

In addition to his inspired play, Thomas’ story and personality has inspired the members at Arrowhead Golf Club, where he works part-time. The golf club will be hosting a charity golf tournament benefi ting the Autism Speaks foundation in late October.

The staff and members at Arrowhead love and encourage Ryan and the management company Coral Hospitality praises his hard work and accomplishments.


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