HOMETOWN: San Diego, Calif.
CREDENTIALS: As a professional golfer, Riley competed in more than 330 PGA Tour events in 13 seasons, winning twice. As USD’s new men’s golf coach, that kind of resume earns him instant credibility, not only with current players, but future recruiting classes. “The fact that I’ve been successful at the highest level in the sport helps in a lot of ways; I know exactly what they’re going through on the course, and how they can maximize their talent. Recruiting in this area is really difficult considering how many top-level programs are focusing here, so I hope that having a coach who played the game and understands what it takes to win can help us land some top-level talent.”
HOMEGROWN: A native San Diegan, Riley fell in love with the game at Tecolote Canyon Golf Course, just a pitching wedge away from Alcala Park. Some of his fondest memories are of spirited on-course battles with his dad, and hustling a little extra cash from the regulars on the practice putting greens. “I started following my dad to the course when I was 8 or 9 years old, and I was hooked right off the bat. I would stay out there all day long, practicing putting and chipping. I guess I got pretty good at putting, because I remember winning lots of candy bar money off the regulars.”
PRESSURE COOKER: Winning a regular PGA tour event requires a great deal of intestinal fortitude, but competing in the Ryder Cup — the sport’s premier team event — as Riley did in 2004, is something else entirely. “In a regular tour event, it’s all about competing for yourself; for Chris Riley. In the Ryder Cup, it’s about competing for the United States of America. When you play a bad round there, it feels like you’re letting the whole country down. It’s the biggest golf tourney in the world, outside of the Master’s, in my opinion, and the pressure to perform is just intense.”
RYDER CUP, REDUX: When asked to identify his career highlight, Riley returns to the 2004 Ryder Cup, where he hit “the shot of his life,” and in the process, drew a priceless reaction from a fairly famous playing partner. “I’ll always remember this one. It was my first Ryder Cup, and they wanted to put me with a veteran, so they put me with Tiger. I’m playing with Tiger Woods! We were playing Darren Clarke and Ian Poulter (members of the European team). It was the 12th hole, and I hit it within two feet or so of the flag. The crowd was going absolutely crazy. But the best part was when I picked up my tee and looked over, Tiger had this huge smile on his face. You don’t get that kind of reaction from him very often, so that was really cool. I think you can still see it on YouTube, actually!”
LADIES FIRST: His new gig requires a lot of his time and energy, but when Riley does have a free moment to spare, it’s spent with his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters, Taylor and Rose. “I love spending time with my girls. They’re almost teenagers now, and they’re both super active, so sometimes it’s hard to figure out who’s busier! Life is good though, and they definitely keep me grounded.”
In 1996, Riley became a professional and spent time on the Nationwide Tour. In 1999, he became a PGA tour member and in 2002 and 2003 he reached the top 30 in the money list. The 2002 Reno-Tahoe Open was his only PGA Tour win. In 2004 he played on an international match for pros aged 30 or younger with the victorious American team, the Tommy Bahama Challenge. It’s really an inspirational story for a beginner.