Photo by Chris Todd

By Robert Wilson

       Former Presbyterian Christian School head of school golf coach Allan Smithers first met Davis Riley – who won his first individual PGA Tour event Sunday – when Riley was a fifth grader at PCS.

       “I had heard how good Davis was and I had just gotten the job as head of school and golf coach in 2007 and wanted to meet him,” said Smithers, who coached Davis every year except his junior year. “I went over to the elementary school and the teachers showed me who he was. He was about four feet tall and two feet wide. I told him who I was, and I had heard he was a good golfer. He said, ‘Yes sir. I hit it pretty good for someone my age,’ in a modest, shy kind of way. I told him he could try out for the golf team next fall as a sixth grader.”

       PCS, located in Hattiesburg, played in a fall league with Jackson Prep, Jackson Academy, Madison-Ridgeland Academy, Lamar School and some other schools and Smithers decided to take Riley to the first tournament at the Refuge in Flowood.

       Said Smithers: “I wanted to see how good this little kid was.”

Former PCS head of school and golf coach Allan Smithers, Davis and his parents, David and Kim Riley

       Riley shot an even par 72 and won the tournament. He kept winning and won the state tournament five of the next six years while he was at PCS and went on to have an outstanding career at Alabama before turning pro.

       And Sunday, Riley became a PGA Tour champion and held off the No. 1 player in the world, Scottie Scheffler, to win the Charles Schwab Challenge at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.

       Riley shot an even par 70 on his final round to finish at 14 under, five strokes ahead of Scheffler and Keegan Bradley.

       Riley won $1.638 million in prize money and gained exemption for next year’s Players, Masters, and PGA Championships. And he is now ranked No. 55 in the world.

       Riley had a four-stroke lead over Scheffler, who was paired with him for the final round. Riley led by six strokes after nine holes.

“I knew coming into today it was going to be tough,” said Riley on an interview with Amanda Ballonis on CBS Sports after the final round. “It is a very tough golf course and you’ve got the world’s No. 1 golfer breathing down your neck. It was difficult there until the last hole. I stayed in it and fought some adversity early. I played some really good golf coming down the stretch. I am super excited and proud of myself. I’ve been trying to get the season going a little bit and to catapult me and set me up the rest of year.”

“I just wasn’t able to put as much pressure as I would have hoped to put on Davis early in the round,” said Scheffler, who has been ranked No. 1 in the world for 80 consecutive weeks, only Tiger Woods had held the top spot longer, in PGA Tour history. “He made that bogey on 2 and answered it really quick with a birdie on 4 and didn’t really give us much of an opening today. It was a well-earned win for him.”

In addition to battling Schleffer on the final round, Riley had a family issue to deal with as well.

Davis’ older sister, Caroline, had to have brain surgery to remove a tumor last Wednesday. The surgery was successful, and the tumor was not cancerous. His parents – David and Kim Davis – told Riley his sister wanted him to play in the tournament. He wasn’t sure he was going to play before the surgery, but with his sister’s blessing he gave it his all. 

“When you have somebody that close to you, all the worst-case scenarios are going through your head,” said Riley, who now lives in the Dallas area. “It was certainly a scary feeling thinking about how you could lose your sister.”

Riley had not had the best of seasons before last week (seven missed cuts in 14 starts and only one Top 25 finish), but had recently reunited with his longtime coach – Jeff Smith, director of instruction at Spring Creek Ranch in Collierville, Tenn. – and was showing improvement.

The first player to great Riley after finishing his winning round was Nick Hardy, who teamed with Riley to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last year. Hardy saw Riley’s birdie on the 17th hole on tv in the clubhouse and went outside and watched the winning putt on the 18thhole. Hardy – who had known Riley since playing junior golf together – gave him a congratulatory hug.

Photo by Chris Todd

“Davis’ game has clearly been trending for a while,” Hardy said. “It’s just fun to see it pay off.”

“We’ve got a special friendship and obviously having our maiden PGA Tour in together was certainly special,” Riley said. “We actually played the first two days together this week. So, there’s definitely a level of comfort there. It was probably a big reason why I got off to a good start.”

All of Riley’s hard work is paying off.

“I feel like physically I’ve had it going for a little bit and I feel like kind of just staying in my own lane and kind of controlling what’s going on upstairs has been a huge help, said Riley, 27 and in his fifth pro season, third on the PGA Tour. 

Riley’s wife, Alexandra, was at the tournament. His parents were in New York with Caroline. 

“I texted him but I’m sure he has been flooded with text messages since he won,” Smithers said. “I’m sure I will hear from him eventually. He is not only a great golfer, but a great person. We had a lot of great times together. I didn’t do much coaching with Davis. My job was to make sure he got there on time and got him a Snickers and a Gatorade. When he calls me, I need to remind him I told him in high school that whenever he qualified for the Masters, I wanted to be his caddie for nine holes during a practice round.”

       The PCS family is excited for Riley.

       “It is always exciting and fulfilling when a school sees their graduates experiencing success in life,” first-year PCS head of school Jimmy Messer said. “We are very proud of Davis, and it was fun to see our PCS family sending shoutouts on social media congratulating Davis.”

       Former PGA Tour member Randy Watkins – who now owns three golf courses in the Metro Jackson area – has known Davis since he was a little kid. 

       “I always knew Davis had the game and the passion to achieve at the highest levels of golf,” said Watkins, who was a classmate at Ole Miss with Riley’s father, David. “I don’t think this will be his last win and actually think he has the game and temperament to win major championships. I’m awfully proud of him.”

       Jackson Academy alumnus Wilson Furr, who played against Riley in high school and with him at Alabama, was excited for Riley, who is two years ago than Furr.

       “I couldn’t be happier for Davis,” said Furr, who is in his first year on the PGA Tour and teamed with Riley for a national runner-up finish for Alabama in 2018. “He is an extremely hard worker and has always been someone I look up to. And as Davis has done his whole life, he is pushing us to get better, which is inspiring and motivating.”