Chris Riley plays golf a few times a week. It helps him stay sharp. He and his wife coach their two daughters on a 10-and-under softball all-star team. It helps him stay happy.
He is thinking about giving Q-School another try, about seeing if the competitive fire he still believes burns somewhere deep inside to play professionally can be ignited. He can envision a spot on the Champions Tour a decade from now.
Chris Riley is 40.
If that doesn’t make you feel old, well ...
Consistency is a level of performance that doesn’t vary greatly in quality over time, and you can also discover it in one’s character. And there have been few nonfluctuating truths about UNLV athletics than this: As terrific a college golfer as Riley was for the Rebels — the first four-time All-American in any sport at the school — he is a better person.
Always has been.
I first interviewed Riley in 1992, when he was one of the country’s top prep golfers as a senior at Patrick Henry High in San Diego. I interviewed him several times throughout his pro career.
He’s the same guy now as then.
The same guy always.
“An outstanding individual with a heart of gold,” UNLV golf coach Dwaine Knight said. “He loves people. He loves life. A great teammate. A great Rebel. He carried the UNLV banner worldwide on the tour and did so much for our university and the state of Nevada.
“No matter what he wore on the outside, underneath Chris was always a Rebel. He is special.”
Tonight, the family Riley cherishes more than any accolade earned on some of the world’s toughest courses will watch as he is inducted into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame.
Riley will be joined in the class by UNLV baseball coach Tim Chambers, motocross star Carey Hart, drag racing team owner Ken Black and the Herbst family.
“My girls know I was a pretty good golfer, but this event will allow them to see a lot more and at their ages be able to remember it,” Riley said. “I’m humbled by the honor, thankful my wife and kids can be there to share in it and that my father is presenting me.”
It always comes back to those lonely hotel rooms.
Few golfers made more out of their ability than Riley, who was never built for the power game that now defines most levels of golf, particularly a PGA Tour dominated with big hitters. Riley once owned one of the world’s best short games. It just took him longer than others to stand over such shots.
He was at his professional best from 1999 to 2004, when his average driving distance ranked just 136th and he was 150th on average for greens in regulation. He never hit it very long, never owned the killer mindset of those above him in the world rankings.
The travel wore on him. He missed his wife (Michelle) and daughters (Taylor and Rose) more and more. He played his final full PGA Tour season in 2010, having made more than $11.5 million in career earnings. His lone tour win came at the Reno-Tahoe Open in 2002, two years before he made the Ryder Cup team.
It was a moment he dreamed about for years, representing the United States in such a competition, a moment that delivered a dose of controversy when he sat out an afternoon session of an eventual U.S. loss after telling reporters he was “pretty emotionally drained,” having arrived to the event following the birth of his first child.
Many questioned his commitment, some his toughness.
Still, only two players wrote then-captain Hal Sutton a note of thanks after the competition.
One was another former UNLV star, Chad Campbell.
The other was Riley.
Of course it was.
“To be honest, once I made the Ryder Cup, I wasn’t like others in needing to do more,” Riley said. “It didn’t drive me like it might other players. It was such a great experience. I felt that was my World Series. I felt I had paid my dues, and that was that.
“My game fell off after that. I didn’t handle the pressure well. I couldn’t be at the level of mega-selfish that you truly need to be to be great. I missed my wife and kids. I wanted to focus more on them.”
He speaks of those times — the post-Ryder Cup years on the tour — as if his inability to win casts a negative perception. I believe it’s the opposite.
Riley, as much as any other athlete, saw life through a big-picture lens. Knight told him to save and invest his money, that everyone at some point will experience a rainy day. He did. He listened to his coach.
He is living in San Diego and coaching softball and happier than ever with the family he missed most while playing. He might not have handled the pressures of golf all that well, but he has handled those of life much better than most.
His is a perspective lost on most professional athletes.
I have never interviewed a nicer person.
Chris Riley is 40.
The same guy now as then.
The same guy always.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.