By BEN JOHNSON
Any efforts to keep a well-maintained lawn have been futile at the Bunch household. All the finely-manicured blades of grass typically end up in small clumps all over the yard.
It’s all for a good cause, though: Rylan Bunch’s golf game.
The Sequoyah senior — when a golf course is unavailable — admits to countless hours of practice in his yard, resulting in divots as far as the eye can see.
“There’s a lot of tore-up grass in the yard where I’ve been hitting,” Bunch said.
While waiting to test out his driver and long irons on the golf course, Bunch typically uses his own territory to work on his short game.
“I have a pretty big yard there at home, so I just hit balls until it gets dark,” he said. “I work mostly with my wedges and try to hit approach shots, anywhere from 100 yards in. I just work on hitting targets.”
Bunch’s yard does get a reprieve most days. That’s because he’s typically somewhere on the golf course, Sequoyah coach Shane Richardson said.
“Some kids are gym rats, and he’s the equivalent of a gym rat on a golf course,” said Richardson, who has been Bunch’s coach for all four seasons of Bunch’s high school career. “He’s out here before everybody and he leaves last. The only time he leaves is when the sun goes down. There’s never a time when he’s somewhere not playing golf during golf season.
“He works very hard at his craft, and he has high expectations of himself, which I like, because it makes him work that much harder.”
Bunch’s dedication to golf is rare at a school that features a myriad of multi-sport athletes. Not Bunch. He prefers to stick to golf — and golf only.
“I always played multiple sports growing up,” Bunch said, “and coming here, it’s what I thought would be a better idea going forward into college.”
That begs the question: Does Bunch miss not playing football or basketball?
“I sometimes miss basketball, not so much football,” he said. “Basketball I do miss.”
Beginning golf at a young age, Bunch waited until he was 14 to begin his tour of tournaments. As far as he can remember, he fared pretty well in that one.
“I did pretty good for my first tournament,” Bunch said. “I was a little nervous, but it all went good.”
It wasn’t long after that when Bunch realized golf may be his calling.
“It was about my freshman year,” he said. “I realized I was getting a lot better, and I felt like I could do something with it.”
That’s exactly what he’s done this season. During his senior campaign, Bunch has racked up medalist honors at four tournaments to go along with two second-place finishes.
“Came out the gate with three early wins,” said Bunch, who won at the Wagoner tournament (March 1), the Keys SWAG tournament (March 14) and the Keys boys’ tournament (March 26) before claiming first place at the Class 3A regional qualifying tournament on Monday.
“I kind of hit a dry spot there in the middle, but it’s starting to come back around toward the end.”
One of his second-place showings was in Claremore at Scissortail Golf Course, the site of Monday’s 3A regional tournament.
“We played there this year, and I finished second in that tournament,” Bunch said. “We’ve played there the last three years for regionals, and I’ve done pretty good there for the last three regionals.”
As Bunch ventures into golf’s version of the postseason, he’ll have a coach that will not try to alter his game at all. Richardson said he helps Bunch with the intangibles more than his actual swing.
“I don’t coach his swing,” Richardson said. “My philosophy is: He can beat me 10 times out of 10, so I’m not going to coach his swing. What I try to do is keep him in a good frame of mind and talk to him about what he’s thinking. I talk to him about what his thought process is, and I help him on that part of it more than the angle of his back swing or the shaft angle or impact area; I don’t mess with that.”
When it comes to Bunch’s game, Richardson is in awe of his ball control.
“His ability to work the ball impresses me the most,” Richardson said. “On the tee or in the fairway, he’s able to work the ball from right to left or left to right. You don’t see that much in high school golf. Typically, if a kid fades the ball, he fades the ball all day. Rylan, when he’s playing at his best, can work the ball.”
Bunch will only have two more opportunities to show off that ability during his high school career. Following regionals, Bunch will take aim at a 3A state championship — if he qualifies — at Duncan Golf and Tennis Club. Bunch said his performance at last season’s state tournament — a three-day total of 243 (30 strokes off the winning pace) at Dornick Hills in Ardmore — is one he’d like to rectify before he moves on to college.
“I went out there expecting to do really good,” Bunch said of last year’s state tournament. “My game felt good going in, but it just disappeared after the first round. It made we want to practice more this year, and be more prepared for that.”