Life of Riley: Davenport's NCAA golf success for Charlotte is a family affair
Eglen, who played at Indiana State and in three Senior British Opens as an amateur, gave Riley his first set of sawed-off golf clubs.
"Riley's been on a mission ever since," said Mark Davenport, Riley's father.
And ever since, so has Riley's family.
There was the time they took little Riley to the BellSouth Classic at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga.
"Phil Mickelson gave him his ball after he birdied a hole and told Riley, 'Thanks for following me,'" recalled Kim Davenport, Riley's mother. "From that point on, Riley just loved it."
Then there was the time Riley's grandfather witnessed his hole-in-one. "I was 13 or 14," Riley said. "That was pretty cool."
And this weekend, the entire family gathered to watch him play for Charlotte in the NCAA men's golf championship — mom, dad, grandfather, grandmother and brother.
"He's probably the most well-supported player out here," said Paul Ferrier, a former Charlotte teammate and member of Riley's extended family. "He's a great guy to be around. Riley's really taken a turn. He's got his head in the right place."
Even when Marie Davenport, his grandmother, blurted: "Do you want me to tell you how precious he is?"
Riley finished in a tie for eighth place in the NCAA tournament's individual stroke play at 2-under-par 286, one of 10 players in the field of 156 to shoot under par on the 7,483-yard, par-72 Concession Golf Club course in Bradenton, Fla.
The family dedication has been critical to his success. Mark said they have put in thousands of miles of walking golf courses to watch Riley. "This journey that they go through is a lot of golf, a lot of time," Mark said. "He's been very dedicated. I don't think I could've done it."
As an example of that dedication, Mark said Riley had attendance issues in high school as he traveled to more and more tournaments. In Riley's junior year, Mark said, "he actually made the commitment and changed schools." Riley attended a private school on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8 to noon, off on Mondays and Fridays, making it easier to travel.
"That was a huge commitment. I knew at that point how truly dedicated he was," Mark said. "He's very, very passionate. He has a kind of big fire as he plays. I've actually tried to maybe cool it out ... It's probably one of his advantages that he plays with such passion. He is very hard on himself about winning. He wants to win every time. And he's always had that."
"I'm a pretty competitive person at anything I do, no matter if it's playing Scrabble with my mom or coming out here and doing this," Riley said. "It's one of my greatest attributes and it's also one of my greatest flaws. Sometimes I push a little too hard."
To help, Riley's swing coach Mike Taylor implemented a 10-second rule: "Ten seconds to be upset and frustrated, but then after that let it go," Mark said. "As he continues to grow and mature, he's getting a whole lot better with that, trying not to let negative things effect him."
His fifth top-10 finish this season was the culmination of a breakthrough season for Davenport, a junior, as well as the 49ers. They advanced to the NCAA championships by winning the Chapel Hill Regional over No. 1 Florida State as well as Stanford.
"To play with Florida State and Stanford and stick it to 'em was pretty impressive," Riley said. "We're really happy with where we're going. The pieces of the puzzle are kinda sticking together now and I think we're realizing, hey, we can beat any team out here."
As for his mission, Riley said he tries to keep his expectations small because he wants to win so bad.
"I'd do anything," he said. "I mean I'll swim across that lake to win."
That would be quite an addition to the family album.