The Colorado PGA Assistant Golf Professional of the Year is awarded to a PGA member or associate for overall performance including leadership, service and promotion of the game of golf. Congratulations to this year’s award recipient, Ryan Bakken, PGA, Assistant Professional at Thorncreek Golf Course!
Bakken grew up in a very small town called Chatfield, Minnesota, and first picked up a golf club at the age of 10 after a friend invited him to play. He became addicted almost instantly. He found immediate success in the game and was even able to play varsity golf as a seventh grader.
Although he started working at golf facilities during his college years, Bakken says he regrets not playing collegiately. “It set me back a few years in terms of playing competitively,” he stated. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse with a Bachelor’s in Business Management in 2005. After that, he entered the PGM Program and started his “professional” career at Eastwood Golf Club, a municipal facility in Rochester, Minnesota, where he stayed for five years.
Bakken continued to build his career at Pheasant Acres Golf Club, a public facility in the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis. In his four seasons there, he honed his professional skills and worked alongside his future wife. She too is in the PGM program. In the winter of 2014, they moved to Colorado and have now been married for three years.
What does it mean to you to receive the Assistant PGA Golf Professional of the Year Award?
It is very meaningful to receive an award determined by my peers. There are many great professionals in the Colorado Section, and I know many of them are very deserving. Knowing that people understand I am doing quality work means a lot and I take a ton of pride in that.
What are the qualities you possess that you believe supported you in receiving the Assistant PGA Golf Professional of the Year Award?
Integrity in leadership is vital to success in the industry. My staff trusts me, and I trust them. I always try to make the best decision possible with the information that I have available, while standing by my word and treating people fairly. Another core aspect of leadership is having empathy, which is very important in building relationships. I try to always refrain from judging others because I don’t know what has happened in their life today. Everyone is fighting their own battles, and they come to us for refuge, not criticism. Showing overall concern and kindness toward others goes a long way in fostering positive relationships. Finally, I love the game and it still drives me. At the end of the day, if you don’t love the game, it’s very difficult to be a great golf professional. Your staff and customers can see that.
What are two tools you use in your professional that help you with your success?
Understanding time management is a critical tool for me. Being efficient, learning to delegate and prioritizing have really helped me. I have had to learn to delegate and have grown in that area. Not only does it take things off my “to-do” list, but it allows me to empower others.
The second tool is communication. Clear communication, whether by email or phone, before-during-and-after an event, is the goal. The number one compliment I receive from players is regarding my communication. I strive to be approachable and available. I ensure the staff that I am here to help them, and my goal is to make them look good.
As it relates to golf, what is the best piece of advice that you have received and what advice would you give to others?
A piece of advice I received from my first head professional was to let go of the fear of the word “no.” I think a lot of young professionals take a “no” answer as a personal indictment. You don’t have to have all the answers; sometimes you just have to fall in line. It doesn’t mean you are bad at your job. It doesn’t mean you asked a dumb question. The sooner you can come to terms with that, the better off you’ll be.
What is your proudest moment as a golf professional?
In September, I qualified for the 2021 PGA Professional Championship, which is without question my proudest personal accomplishment. My family, friends and members at Thorncreek are very excited for the event because I think they understand how much it means to me. It is especially significant because a month prior I had a real low at the Assistant’s Championship and worked hard on my game to turn it around. Working through the nerves and playing under pressure at the Section Championship was real vindication that the hard work was worth it.
Share something about yourself that others may not know.
I had a scary health crisis in the summer of 2013. After feeling sick to my stomach for over a week, I went to the hospital where doctors located a tumor in my colon. After emergency surgery to remove the tumor, I was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer and given a 50/50 chance of surviving past five years. Once I recovered from surgery, I had to undergo nine rounds of chemotherapy and 28 radiation treatments. Fortunately, I have been cancer-free now for seven-plus years and had 100% clean follow-ups. This challenge was one of the main reasons we decided to uproot and move to Colorado. We realized that a long life was not a guarantee. This whole journey gave me a better perspective on life. I realized there are certainly much worse things than a bad day at work or a poor round of golf. I try to remember that on a daily basis.