In the fall of 2019, LMU senior golfer Riley Elmes is going to become a professional golfer.
He will go from an amateur competitor to one playing for his earnings alongside the best in the world. It's a level that so many aspire to, but few actually achieve.
A look at his family tree, however, would suggest that it’s exactly what was expected of him.
Both his grandfather and his father played professionally, with his dad having participated on the PGA Tour of Australia at the same time as golf legend Greg Norman. Elmes recalls that the family pedigree was a major influence on his choice of sport.
“I grew up playing a lot of sports, but [golf ran in] the family,” he said. “I think it’s just kind of in my blood.”
He soon began playing competitively and focused on improving his game.
“I’ve always been kind of a perfectionist, and golf’s a game you can’t really perfect,” Elmes said. “So it just always enticed me to keep practicing more and more.”
The endless commitment to improve and his striving for perfection paid off in high school. At Lake Oswego High School in Oregon, which he attended from 2011 to 2015, he won numerous accolades for both individual and team performance. On the individual side, he earned all-state honors in all four years of high school. Furthermore, the team won the state title every single season he played on the team.
Elmes also saw success outside of high school, finishing second in two different tournaments organized by the American Junior Golf Association and winning a tournament on the Future Collegians World Tour.
When he chose to attend LMU, it was a decision driven in part by the love of golf he received from his father's side of the family. However, the other side of his family influenced him as well.
His mother had attended LMU for graduate school, so he was already familiar with the location and academics. He also knew Brad Lanning, the head coach of the golf team at the time that he was making his college decision, so he felt comfortable at the school and on the team, which was important to him.
“I knew I could feel at home here and progress my game and [my academic] career,” Elmes said.
When he began the transition from junior golf to college golf, however, it wasn’t as easy as he expected. It required a period of adjustment that lasted his entire freshman year.
“It took some time to figure out [my game] and figure out the whole college thing,” he said. “But after my first year, I kind of got the hang of things.”
Elmes felt that freshman year was below his standards. It was in his sophomore year that he finally found a groove and took off. He emerged as LMU's best golfer, leading the team in stroke average, posting high finishes in several tournaments and earning all-conference honors.
His junior year saw even better results. He posted the second-best single-season stroke average in program history and became the seventh golfer in the history of the program to be invited to compete as an individual in the NCAA Regional Tournament.
Elmes attributes his gradual improvement to his mental state and his ability to play smart when in tough situations.
“I think that’s the biggest difference between college golfers and those who are winning on the PGA Tour,” he said. “The mental ability to stay strong.”
This past year has seen a continuation of his previous success. He has posted terrific numbers, finished with strong results at tournaments and remained one of the best golfers in the conference. At the same time, he has emerged as an emotional and vocal leader on the team. This was something he learned from Connor Campbell, who took on a leadership role as a senior when Elmes was a freshman.
“He kind of took me under his wing,” Elmes said of Campbell. “That’s how I learned to be a leader on the team.”
With his time as an LMU student-athlete almost complete, Elmes is focusing on different aspects of his life, including finishing classes and waiting to see if he is selected for the NCAA Regional Tournament once again.
Over the summer, he will compete at the United States Amateur Championship and the British Amateur Championship.
Soon after that, he will be continuing the family legacy by going pro, which he began to realize was a realistic goal during his tenure in college.
“Once the success started to kick in and I started to win, I just felt like I could belong on that stage,” he said. “It gives you the sense that you belong out there and you know you can compete with the best in the world.”
Elmes knows that this is the culmination of all the hard work he has put into the game of golf, from youth golf to high school to college. He is ready to reach what he has long aspired to achieve.
“It’s always been a dream to play professional golf and play on the PGA Tour,” he said.
Like so many young athletes, Elmes played while chasing that dream. Unlike most, he’s going to get there.