Q&A: Davis Riley

Davis Riley has two wins in this wraparound season. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Davis Riley is the only golfer with two victories so far on the Korn Ferry Tour’s special 2020-21 wraparound season but he’s not quite the clear-cut favorite for the player of the year – a solid argument could be made for his roommate Will Zalatoris.

Riley is unfazed.

The laid-back Mississippi native is the epitome of slowed-down southern charm and the star junior golfer saw his skills as a youngster transfer perfectly to college golf at the University of Alabama.

Now in his second year on the Korn Ferry Tour Riley appears set to join a plethora of Crimson Tide alums on the PGA TOUR sooner rather than later. He’s on the cusp of playing his second major championship, too.

Riley spent a few minutes with PGA TOUR Digital to chat about his upbringing in Mississippi, hunting birdies (off the golf course), and shooting 58 in the dark.

How did you get started with golf?

I picked up my first golf club when I was three or four. I got introduced through my parents – I lived on a golf course. I grew up on a course called Canebrake Country Club in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and my house was on the ninth fairway. I could walk 200 yards from my house and be on the driving range and putting green and clubhouse. It was literally an ideal setup for anyone who wants to play golf. To this day I still walk back and forth when I’m home. It’s pretty cool. I was very fortunate to have that. I grew up and my dad would take me over there. I’d beat balls from sun up to sun down and then finally I got old enough and had a great group of guys so we’d walk back and forth. My dad got me into the game.

Do you remember the first time you beat him?

I don’t remember the exact moment but he probably didn’t have much to say about it and probably didn’t want me yelling to all his friends I beat him when I was 13 or 14 (laughs).

Was around that time when you thought you could make professional golf a career choice?

I played a few sports growing up. I played baseball and it was a fairly big sport in my family. My grandfather played baseball at Georgia Tech and my dad was a pretty good ball player as well. That was a little bit in there. I played soccer, baseball… up until I was 10 or 11 and then I really started focusing on golf. It wasn’t pushed but it was the most accessible sport I had. I literally walked out my back door and could hit balls. It was something I loved and easy for me to do it. I had 4-5 friends who were pretty good golfers themselves and we would always go to the course and having chipping or putting games. I was probably 12-13 when I really focused and loved golf so much it was the only thing I wanted to play.

For you golf was more than just a sport, it was a social thing too?

I was a little bit younger than the guys but I had a great group and it was fun to go and hang out. There were days when we’d go to play golf and then it’d start storming so somebody would bring their Xbox over to the golf course and we’d play video games. It was a hangout and social thing with some friends.

Tell me a little more about Hattiesburg.

The University of Southern Mississippi is there so I guess technically it’s a college town but I lived away from where the campus was. I was west of downtown, out in a nice suburb. It’s a fairly small town, like 75-100,000 people, if that much. It’s fairly small but since it’s a college town there is stuff to do. It’s what you’d imagine a small Mississippi town to be – you’ve got your suburbs and you’ve got downtown and campus but a lot of pine trees and open fields. It was a fun place to grow up. It wasn’t like one of those towns where everybody knows everybody but you still were familiar with a lot of people there. You knew a lot of people, which was kind of nice.

So you’re from a small-ish town in Mississippi and you’re now on some of the biggest stages in golf. Any culture shock in terms of places you went to play growing up?

When I first started playing junior golf, the sport takes you some pretty cool places. You’d go to even, Boston, I remember going there for a U.S. Junior. California and San Diego… doing all those things, as a junior, is different because you’ve never been exposed to that. All you can say is, ‘Wow, this is what these cities are like.’ When I got to college and professional golf I had seen enough of it because I travelled so much as a junior going to all these different places. I was used to it. It wasn’t too much of a shock to me later, but first starting out you’re like, ‘wow, this is different.’

When you were growing up, and according to Instagram, you shot a 58. Give me the breakdown.

I did, at my home course! I did shoot 58. It’s a funny story: It was me and five other friends. It was after school one day, like late afternoon. We get to the last couple of holes and it’s getting so dark my friends are shining lights on my ball for me to see. They shine the flashlight on the tee so I can see, the second shot so I can see, and then they flashed behind the hole on 18. I had a 10-footer on the last to shoot 57 and I left it on the front edge. It was funny because we were like, “Oh my gosh!” We were playing six, and our course didn’t even allow six, but we were all running out there saying we wanted to get 18 in. All my friends played the first 12 holes then they stopped and watched me play the rest (laughs).

How did you decide on Alabama?

My mom went there for two years so there was a bit of an Alabama connection in there. I remember getting recruited my freshman or sophomore year of high school and that was right in the time of the Justin Thomas-era (Alabama won back-to-back NCAA Championships in 2013-14) and I remember watching them play the National Championships and I just thought it was so cool. I thought, ‘Dang that looks fun. I want to be part of that.’ I was fortunate enough to get recruited. I loved what Coach Seawall is about. You just learn ‘The Alabama Way’ when you get there and it was incredible. I put full trust in Coach Seawall and the staff there to turn me into the player I aspired to be. It also felt kind of homey to me because it was only two-and-a-half hours from campus. I could come back on the weekend if I wanted to if I got homesick, although I never did. It worked out perfectly. I guess, how could it not when you go on a visit and you watch on the sidelines an Alabama football game.

There does seem to be something unique about the guys, and the girls, who play golf at Alabama and how close they are.  

We were pretty close with the women’s team as well because they were practicing at a similar time. Like I knew Emma (Talley, who plays on the LPGA Tour) pretty well and the names go on. It’s just a family atmosphere out there and everyone is pulling for each other. The chemistry on the team goes back to Coach Seawall. (The coaches) do a great job of recruiting guys that are going to contribute to the good chemistry and everything about the team. They’ve all meshed really well and the guys are really good for each other.

Away from golf, is hunting how you’d spend an ideal day?

If there’s one thing in my off-season that I’m going to do, it’s going to be that. I used to hunt a lot more. Golf now seems like the season is from January to December so I don’t get to do near as much as I used to. This off-season I’m going to try to do more. It’s something my dad and I can do together and he’s the one who introduced me to it. That’s the fun thing. I’ve been travelling so much I don’t get to see my dad as much and that’s something we can do together. Every off-season we’ll try to plan a trip but it’s a big off course activity I enjoy.

So a big dream is to buy a bunch of land in rural Mississippi and do whatever you want with it?

(Laughs). I’d like to have a big old cabin somewhere and have a bunch of land I could do whatever I wanted! That’d be fun. Just make it my own little theme park so to speak.

Now you’ve got me thinking. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to do that in a couple years.