By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
Note: Each week, Sports Editor Matt Schuckman will sit down with a newsmaker to talk about what is happening locally. This week, Schuckman caught up with Nan Ryan, the executive director of the Pepsi Titan Little People's Golf Championships.
The Pepsi Titan Little People's Golf Championships returns to Quincy this week to celebrate its 40th anniversary.
Nan Ryan, the 79-year-old executive director of the event, has been the driving force behind the junior golf tournament since its inception in 1974, and she continues to be one of the biggest advocates for junior golf.
Q: Does it feel like it's been 40 years?
A: Not at all. I told someone after the first one I called it the "first annual" I figured there were going to be a few more. I hadn't thought about 40.
It's been good. It's been a great 40 years, and I've just enjoyed every minute of it.
Q: What has made it successful for 40 years?
A: I had a lot of experience with the PGA and LPGA in public relations, running tournaments and working at tournaments, and I think that experience carried over. So many people have said this is the best organized tournament they've ever been to. My background really helped with that.
Also, as far as golf goes, playing on the LPGA Tour taught me what people want, what they expect, what they like to have. So I think all my background has helped.
Of course, you have the hospitality of Quincy. Everybody loves Quincy. It's a beautiful city, and the people are great.
The personal attention everyone gets is something special, too. I talk to or email probably 95 percent of the field. So I have a personal contact with everybody. I answer everybody's phone call personally and email personally. By the time they get here, we're kind of on a first-name, friend basis.
Q: You talk about the personal nature of the event and the hospitality of Quincy. A lot of that shows in the volunteers. How important are they to this event?
A: I've always said we couldn't do this without the volunteers. We can have sponsors. We can have players. But without the volunteers to help everything work right, it just wouldn't happen.
Q: Do you ever sit back and marvel that people continue to volunteer?
A: It's awesome. We want to recognize those people for all they do.
Q: You've seen some ebbs and flows in the number of players, but the tournament has continued to thrive. Why?
A: We started with 174 golfers and 45 of those were from Quincy. We had kids from 13 states and Canada. Then, in 2000, we hit our peak with 922 kids. Since then, however, the number of junior golfers has decreased by a million and the number of junior tournaments has increased from six a year to an incredible amount each week. We still have players.
Another thing that's neat to see is the people coming back with their kids. ... It's nice to see that they thought that much of the tournament to bring their kids back. It's fun to see our grandchildren, as we call them.
Q: When you flip on the TV and see players who have played here, what's that like?
A: It's special. It's fun to read about them and see what they're doing.
And there are so many who have gone onto to do big things in other professions. It's fun to keep in touch with them and see what they've accomplished.
Q: What's the highlight for you each year?
A: I think it's meeting the people in person and getting to know them. And of course, watching kids who started when they were 5 or 6 and now seeing them on the big course.
It's fun when I get their entries in to see how their handicaps have gone down.
They were 40, then they were 30, then in their teens and now they're a 3.2. You can track how much they have improved.
Q: Your daughter had a big influence on the start of this tournament. Does she still have a connection to it?
A: I was hoping she could get here, but she teaches at Berkeley and she teaches microbiology in the summertime. Classes started June 11, and it's just hard to get away.
I would love to have her here. She named this tournament.
Q: What makes you keep doing this?
A: I love it. I love to do it. I love the organization, the planning, the trying to think of new things, how to improve. Of course, I love the game of golf.
Q: What is it about the game that grabbed you?
A: I got into golf because of my eye doctor -- Dr. Stevenson. In the fourth grade, they give you the eye test and I couldn't see the blackboard from the back of the room. So I went to see Dr. Stevenson. At that point, I was pretty much a couch potato. I think I was the original couch potato.
I spent a lot of time reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and eating potato chips.
So Dr. Stevenson said to me, "Why don't you get outside? Go over and see Charlie Clarkson at the country club. Charlie loves young kids and let him give you some lessons."
I liked it because it was a single sport. I wasn't part of a team. I could go out and practice by myself. I didn't have to have somebody with me.
That's how I started. Slowly, I got into it. I started playing tournaments when I was 15 and that was it. At one point, I spent 13 months on the road playing tournaments as an amateur. A lot of them were LPGA tournaments and a lot of them were amateur tournaments.
I decided I really didn't want to do that for a living. I was in journalism school at Mizzou at the time. So when I graduated, I went right to work for the PGA in public relations.
You have to remember I learned a lot from Scotty (Glasgow), too. We lived right across from Westview. I was telling someone the other day this story. On No. 5 at Westview where there's the ditch, I chopped all the trees out of there one fall.
Scotty said, "It will be good for your golf swing, lassie."
I don't know that it was, but we got the trees out.
I laid the sod on what is now the 11th green. He had me work in the shop. He had me refinishing clubs, building clubs. So, from Scotty, I learned a lot of things other than how to swing the club and how to play the game.
It's been a fascination of mine now since the fourth grade, which is 70 years.
Q: So when do you finally say it's time to slow down?
A: I have no plans to. As long I can remember what I'm supposed to do and can make it happen, I'll keep doing it.
Q: How long is Little People's going to keep going?
A: Well, as long as I can do it and as long as Quincy will support it. It's a great thing Titan came along and saved Little People's in Quincy. Pepsi has been a loyal sponsor for 40 years and hopefully we will continue to be the Pepsi Titan Little People's.
I have no plans to change or stop it. I'd love to see it go on even after I wasn't able to do it any longer.