MISSOULA — Ryggs Johnston didn’t feel much of a need to celebrate his second state golf championship in five months.
The Libby junior had his worst state tournament performance this past weekend with 68-66—134 at the Sidney Country Club. He failed to match his all-class record 68-63—131 he shot as a freshman at Pryor Creek Golf Club in Huntley or the 61-67—128 he shot as a sophomore to reset the all-class record at Marias Valley Golf Course in Shelby.
He also finished one stroke behind Class AA champion and longtime friend Joey Moore, who shot a 67-66—133 at Kalispell's Buffalo Hill Golf Club.
Most importantly, he felt his play didn’t live up to his personal expectations.
So excuse the teenage phenom, future Arizona State golfer and PGA Tour hopeful for feeling like there wasn't too much to celebrate about his latest state title.
“You can always do better,” Johnston said during a telephone conversation Tuesday. “I shot some good scores. Not quite as good as I had been shooting the rest of the season, so I was disappointed in that.
“But you can never complain about scores in the 60’s, especially in all that wind that there was. … That made it tough because it’s been a while since I played in wind like that.”
He still broke a decade-old Class A record and shot 12 strokes better than the closest golfer to win his second state title since May and third in three seasons. And this one came at the Class A level, unlike his last two, which came in Class B before Libby moved up because of MHSA changes in enrollment ranges.
The closest Johnston came to celebrating the victory was going fly-fishing with his caddie, Joe Cielak, on Monday. The relaxing trip was his escape after two days of driving home from the state tournament and receiving numerous congratulations from people at school Monday.
The two of them didn’t talk too much about Johnston winning his third state championship. Cielak knew better than to ask Johnston about the title, so they talked briefly about how the high school season went and, of course, that windy weather at the state tournament.
“He doesn’t show a lot of emotions,” Cielak said. “He was definitely excited and relieved because he knows the pressure and everything it takes that goes into winning it. It was more a sense of relief that it was done.
“He’s a pretty serious kid in a way. He’s like an old soul. I just let him sit there and fish and didn’t even really say much. Just knowing that he was enjoying what we were doing was good.”
Johnston is a Montana kid.
He loves the outdoors, and other than golfing, he enjoys fishing and hunting.
Those activities require patience. The solitude provided also allows for contemplative introspection.
“I just like being in the outdoors and doing stuff outside,” Johnston said, adding he tries to go fishing a couple times each week. “It’s always cool to see a cool fish or a big deer or something.
“It’s peaceful, kind of like how golf is if you go golfing by yourself, and it’s not too fast-paced.”
Johnston spoke more glowingly about Monday's fishing catches — an estimated 27-inch bull trout and 25-inch rainbow trout he caught near the dam on the Kootenai River in Libby — than his state titles. Even then, he wasn’t getting too caught up in his accomplishments.
“I caught a couple big fish, so that was fun,” he said.
Cielak has been Johnston’s caddie in non-high school contests for about two or three years, the two of them estimated. Cielak knew Johnston since the golfer was in grade school, and his son, Jonny Cielak, was a senior golfer at Libby when Johnston was a freshman.
The three of them would occasionally go fishing, and Cielak again saw how much of a competitor Johnston is during one of their first times out on a drift boat.
“Ryggs was new to this type of fly fishing,” Cielak said. “We were throwing leaded lines and bigger streamers trying to catch bigger trout. My son, Jonny, was up in the front and had caught two, and Ryggs was in the back and had none. I said something like, ‘Ryggs want to get up to the front?’ He jumped up to the front so fast. It was like he knew the spot he needed to be in to catch a fish. He couldn’t wait for his turn to get up there. He ended up catching the next fish.”
Cielak said he’ll talk about fishing, among other subjects, with Johnston on the golf course as a way to lighten up the pressure.
The intersection of fishing and golfing came to light on the course when Johnston made an impromptu fishing expedition this past August on the back nine at Cabinet View Golf Club in Libby. While their golfing group waited between holes, Johnston pulled out a collapsible fishing rod from his bag of clubs and cast out a line into a pond with bass.
It's something Johnston said he's done for a few years — releasing the fish he catches — but Cielak said he'd never thought of that possibility until that day.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Cielak said. “Now I’ve always thought I should have a fishing rod in my bag, too.”
Johnston has much bigger fish to fry than winning state titles.
He committed to Arizona State in October of his sophomore year and has dreams of a career playing on the PGA Tour.
He hasn’t been fazed by his early success or the two titles in five months: “I expected to win. My goal was to win both of them. It’s just a golf tournament.”
And people around Libby haven’t been too surprised, either, Cielak said.
Johnston once threw a no-hitter and made an unassisted triple play in baseball. He placed third and second in two different age groups at the Elks National Hoop Shoot Finals, a free-throwing shooting contest. And the kid who received his first set of clubs when he was 18 months old won the Teen World Championship at 14 years old with the best score in tournament history.
All of that was before he even entered high school.
“We’ve always, around Libby, expected Ryggs to be a standout,” Cielak said. “We’ve all been waiting because he was so good when he was young with everything he did: Basketball, baseball, golf, everything. It’s not really a big surprise around Libby.
“His talent is amazing. Just his desire to win, too, is amazing. He’s a great kid. I feel lucky just to be able to be a part of it.”
Right now, Johnston is “definitely looking forward to” Libby’s basketball season after a spring, summer and fall packed with golf.
He said he might play some rounds of golf in the next few weeks depending on the weather and may play on an indoor simulator over the winter.
With no high school golf in the spring this year, he said he plans to play in local U.S. Open qualifiers and other men’s tournaments as he prepares for summer golf with a senior season, college career and PGA Tour dreams on the horizon.
“He knows how hard and how good every other person is out there and how much he needs to work,” Cielak said. “From that sense, he knows how hard the road he’s on is.
“His potential is unlimited. He’s got a great golf coach. His family has been doing all the right stuff for him. … I haven’t seen any sign of Ryggs peaking. Kids will peak at a certain age. Some continue to work hard, and this kid just seems to continue to get better.”