Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Salado, Texas, bills itself as "The Best Art Town in Texas" and with over 60 art-related shops on Main Street, the town probably has a valid claim.
However, the word art is not often used to describe the golf swing of Salado native and Baylor sophomore Ryan O'Rear.
"I think he just knows how to get the ball in the hole," head coach Greg Priest said. "I think that is probably the biggest thing. He is not flashy. He doesn't have the best golf swing. He just competes."
And lately O'Rear has been doing a lot of competing. Since being inserted in the lineup last year before the Big 12 Championships, O'Rear has been a stable factor for the Bears, while appearing in 12 of the Bears' last 14 tournaments.
"I didn't really play in the fall and then played pretty well the week before conference," O'Rear said. "Coach gave me a shot and I wanted to do whatever I could to help the team."
O'Rear learned the game by following his father around the golf course, but during his freshman year of high school he began to work with the head teaching professional at the Heart of Texas Golf Academy, Ray Lamb. It was through Lamb that Priest became aware of the talented player in his own backyard.
"We are basically looking for the top talent," Priest said. "The thing that is important is when we do have good local talent we try to get those guys and with Ryan being from Salado, that was one we definitely wanted to target."
Salado sits only 50 miles to the south of Waco and that closeness to home definitely factored into O'Rear's decision to come to Baylor, but what sold him on the school was Priest's availability.
"Coach Priest is always there for us," O'Rear said. "He is always there to help us with whatever we need. He will stay out of our way, but if we want help he will help us. It is a really good fit for our team."
During his first semester, O'Rear could not break into the Baylor lineup and only participated in one tournament as an individual, finishing in a tie for 75th. In the spring, Priest started O'Rear in the final four tournaments as the Bears made a run to the NCAA Championships.
"It took Ryan a while to adjust to playing," Priest said. "I think once he got in the lineup, he didn't let it go. You try to find guys that get in the lineup and take advantage of their opportunities. He knew that he could compete at this level and that is what kept him in there."
The leap that O'Rear made from playing Class 2A high school golf at Salado to becoming a crucial part of the Baylor lineup is quite remarkable, but his success at the high school level should have been an indication of things to come.
O'Rear won three consecutive state individual titles to help the Salado Eagles to a pair of state championships. Following his senior year of high school Golfweek ranked him as the No. 1 golf recruit in the state.
"Last year it took a lot of getting used to college golf and school, but I think I am starting to get the hang of it now," O'Rear said. "I think the team is really close to each other, so the upperclassmen have really accepted me and taken me in."
This season, O'Rear has played in eight of 10 events racking up a 73.2 scoring average with two top-five finishes and seven top-40 results. The Bears will look to duplicate last season's NCAA run and with a year of experience under his belt, O'Rear will be a major part of that postseason picture.
"We have the same team back," O'Rear said. "With that experience I think we can make it back to nationals and hopefully make a run in match play."
And with O'Rear continuing to post low scores for the Bears, Salado may soon be known more for its golfers than its art galleries.