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Pro fit

Growing up in a small town, the son of parents who taught P.E., who coached all manner of sports, whose dad was the high school athletic director, it's little wonder Tracy Snyder was raised a jock.

Nearly any competitive sport available to the youth of Oakridge was as effective as a wiggly worm at the fishin' hole. Young Snyder bit, with one notable exception.

"Everything but golf," he laughs.

The irony makes it funny.

Snyder now earns his living in the golf business. At the first of the year, he replaced the retired Jim Wise as head professional at Rogue Valley Country Club.

Wise had taken on iconic status for having worked nearly four decades at the private club, including 31 as head pro. One of Wise's moves, in July 2000, was hiring a graduate of New Mexico State's golf management program.

"I was nervous as hell, I can tell you that," recalls Snyder, 39. "I was pretty green when I started."

He's worked his way to PGA Class A status and has made what seems to be a seamless transition into the chief golf post at the 27-hole club.

"They were very big shoes to fill," Snyder says of Wise's imprint. "He kind of made it look a little easier than it really is."

Snyder took on more responsibility in the couple years leading to Wise's departure and endeared himself to the membership with a demeanor that is as easy-going and unrushed as ketchup oozing from a bottle.

Hiring from within was viewed by many as a popular move. Count Snyder among the many, for he admits there are others more adept at interviewing, more likely to grab you by the lapels and shake you into noticing them.

But there's little doubt Snyder was a good fit. He'd done the work and is loyal to the club that showed faith in him when it hired him, then with support as he improved his professional standing.

Golf had been something of an afterthought through Snyder's childhood. He picked it up early, at age 4 or 5, because his parents played. Mom Lena was the high school coach and a single-digit handicapper. She regularly beat her husband, Jerry.

The family played at a little nine-hole course with a name suited more for a ranch than a golf track. The Circle Bar Golf Club's fairways swelled with millworkers back when they were plentiful and served as Snyder's training ground.

He didn't play competitively, didn't know junior golf, but nevertheless found time to hone his game when he wasn't playing organized sports.

Coaxing personal information from Snyder about those days is more difficult than prying a golf ball out of wet, ankle-high rough. About as braggadocio as he gets is, "I could play a little."

That went for all sports.

Football? He was the quarterback and safety on prep teams that ruled the Trico League. Rifle-armed?

"We ran the veer," he says. "My strength was to hand off to the running backs."

Of course.

Basketball? He played point guard. As a senior, he averaged maybe 18 or 20 points a game, he says. Any big ones? Some, he'll mumble. Like 40 points? Yeah, a couple, he says, finally. But he wasn't a great shooter, he just knew the game a little bit.

Baseball? You can probably guess the positions. Shortstop and pitcher. His dad coached, but that wasn't why the son manned the marquee spots.

"In those small towns, there were only so many kids to choose from," says Snyder.

And he could play a little bit.

Snyder was all-league in all and all-state in most upon graduation in 1991. He attended Lane Community College in Eugene, 40 miles from his home, playing basketball and baseball.

Golf would soon come into the picture.

A colleague showed Snyder's father an article on college golf programs. There were only four in the country, and one was New Mexico State's. Snyder was intrigued.

"I really didn't know what I wanted to do then," he says. "I was just playing ball.

"He gave it to me to read and I thought, 'This looks like a good deal. I'm gonna try it.' It kind of gave me a direction. I gave them a buzz and packed up and went. I just wanted to do something in sports."

He wasn't immediately welcomed into the program. It required a 3.0 GPA and, at worst, a 4 handicap. Snyder visited the program's director, they went out and played and he was in by the second semester.

The school has its own course and Snyder worked in the pro shop on weekdays and directed the maintenance crew on weekends. It also had a mini tour for the program's 300 students. Snyder, playing competitively for the first time, "won a little money," once placing in the top 10 on the money list.

Upon graduation, he sought a return to Oregon. The lone opening was at RVCC, and after Snyder's director called Wise on his behalf, the wheels were in motion.

This week marks an anniversary of sorts. Snyder's first day a dozen years ago was also the first day of the popular member-guest tournament, going on this week.

"I got introduced to the job pretty quickly," he grins.

Not long after, he gave his first lesson during the Southern Oregon Golf Championships. He doesn't recall the fellow's name, doesn't know if he still plays in the tournament or if he still plays golf.

"But he paid me, and I thought, 'This is pretty cool,'" says Snyder.

He's now comfortable in his role as the head pro.

The first big tournament was the Rogue Valley Pairs, and it enjoyed increased participation and went off without a hitch. Looming is the Southern Oregon the week leading up to Labor Day. It's the largest job he'll tackle.

"I haven't worried about it a lot," he says. "But I'm starting to think about it a little bit."

Wise is a phone call away if Snyder needs help, but the latter prefers not to interfere with his mentor's retirement.

When he's not at the course, Snyder enjoys spending time with his family. He and wife Megan have two children, 5-year-old Tate, who, as his daddy did, plays with any ball he can get his hands on, and 19-month-old Jack. A third child is on the way.

Snyder joins club members in city league basketball and softball. Some teammates are older and prone to aches and pains.

"Our first softball game this year, we had 10 guys," says Snyder. "After the first inning, we had eight."

One could assume he's the team's star. You know, he can play a little.

Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com

Tracy Snyder Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Bob Pennell