BLAINE - Ryan Wallen was 10 years old when he picked up his first set of golf clubs. Now a senior at Blaine High School, he's accepted a full scholarship to play at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyo., next fall.
Wallen, who's dominated the Whatcom County golf scene the past three years, placed second in the Class 2A State Tournament as a freshman and junior. He won a state title his sophomore year, and shot an average score of 72.7 - the lowest stroke average in the Northwest Conference - in league play a year ago.
Wallen, dressed in a brown and yellow Wyoming sweatshirt and blue jeans, took part in a mock signing Tuesday morning, Nov. 20, in Blaine High School's gym. His family, Borderites golf coach Steve Barthlow and athletic director Wayne Vezzetti joined Wallen. He officially committed to Wyoming Thursday, Nov. 15.
"It's definitely exciting, Wallen said. "It's been a long time coming. I've been working hard and thank the support from everybody else - the support from the school, family and friends. I'm really excited. It's a huge step for my future. ... It seems like all this has gone kind of fast. It has always been my goal to play D1 golf and, now that I'm here, it's really exciting."
Wallen said he was toying with the idea of staying local or going out of state. He had talks with Western Washington University, University of Oregon, University of San Francisco and San Diego State University, but ultimately decided to be a Cowboy.
"I toured the campus. It was a good place, a good environment," Wallen said. "It's kind of the same small-town feel, but it's away and a new part of the country but just a plane flight away."
Wallen is the second Division I golfer in Blaine High School history. Alumnus Chris Jorgensen competed at Washington State University from 1992-94.
The Blaine senior's goal when he began golfing was to play Division I. Tuesday morning served as a symbol of Wallen's hard work and dedication to improve his game year after year.
Barthlow said that constant drive to improve is one his senior's most admirable traits.
"He has really matured a lot, and not only as an athlete but as an individual," Barthlow said. "I think the other thing I've seen since his freshman year until now is his development. I mean, he has gotten a lot bigger, a lot stronger and I think the love of the game is what has really played into everything. It's all about getting better and not being satisfied where you're at."
Wallen's steady improvements have shown in his play. His league scoring average was 80.6 as a freshman and 77.7 as a sophomore. He lowered his score five strokes as a junior - averaging 72.7 strokes per round.
He's not planning on stopping there.
"I really feel like I have a lot of potential, and I haven't reached it yet," Wallen said. "I'm going in the right direction. I'm improving every day and getting better. I'm excited and ready for collegiate golf."
Wyoming coach Joe Jensen will help Wallen unlock his full abilities.
"He is a really cool coach," Wallen said. "He's laid back but, at the same time, he still keeps tabs on his kids. They have a lot of good academic advisors over there to keep tabs on your studies and keep you focused. I went to some workouts and saw them, and he really pushes them. I think he's a really good coach."
While Wallen will get four years to learn under Jensen's tutelage, Barthlow said Jensen is getting a strong golfer he'll be able to shape and mold.
"He's getting a dedicated young man that works hard at his game and loves the game," the Blaine coach said. "One of the things I've always appreciated about Ryan is that he is a true sportsman. He is always cheering his playing partners on verbally but beating them mentally."
Wallen plans to study business at UW. He said the university has a new college of business he's exited about. On the links, he plans to be an integral part of an up-and-coming young Cowboy club.
"They are a young team, and they are bringing in another player," Wallen said. "We're going to be good for a few years. I'm excited about that, because their program is going in the right direction now."
Outside of his family and Blaine community, Wallen wanted to give a special thanks to Lake Padden Golf Course Director of Instruction Luke Bennett, who Wallen said has been a longtime coach, mentor and best friend. The Blaine senior said Bennett "has been like an older brother to me." Bennett has served as Wallen's swing coach the last two years.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
Here is a look at the Whatcom County high school seniors who either have signed or are planning to sign National Letters of Intent to be student athletes in college:
Student athlete High school Sport College
Brooke Branigan* Bellingham Golf Western Washington
Alex Check Bellingham Baseball Washington State
Matt Meyer Lynden Football Washington State
Audrey Orem* Bellingham Golf Western Washington
Ryan Wallen* Blaine Golf Wyoming
*Already signed National Letter of Intent
NOTE: To report a Whatcom County high school student athlete that is planning to continue their playing career in college, please contact David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.