Legacy of Gamecocks fan lives on through tourney

If there was a manual on how to deal with loss, the loved ones of Ryan Craven could fill a chapter.


Craven -- a 26-year-old who loved golf and the South Carolina Gamecocks (not necessarily in that order) -- died in a car crash along with friend Ryan McNeal, 23, on Jan. 2. Craven lost control of his car on a sharp curve of Gregory Lake Road, just a half-mile up the street from his home on the 10th hole of North Augusta Golf and Country Club.

Losing two young men has been difficult for family and friends to cope with. The bad days have more often outweighed the good ones since.

Honoring Craven's memory by merging his two great loves was a fitting outlet for their grief.

"I just sat around talking with Randy (Sapp) and we decided to hold a golf tournament in Ryan's memory," said his stepmother, Debbie Craven.

Thus, the Ryan Craven Memorial Golf Tournament was held April 15 at North Augusta Golf and Country Club. Twenty groups participated and raised $8,000. All of the money will be presented in Craven's name to the South Carolina men's golf team.

"That's where he would have wanted it to be," his stepmother said.

Sapp agrees. He played golf in a regular foursome with Craven, David Clark and Jim Dyer almost every weekend. If they weren't playing golf, they were driving up the road to Columbia to attend Gamecocks football games for much of the past eight years.

"That's my ties with Ryan," said Sapp of his playing partner who could break par on the golf course.

Sapp -- who was also a co-worker of McNeal's -- had to bury two of his friends in the first week of 2011. Helping put together and participate in not only the tournament for Craven but another one coming up at Midland Valley in honor of McNeal (benefitting North Augusta High School) helped ease some of the pain.

"That's the worst thing I ever had to do," he said of attending both funerals in January.

South Carolina -- which authorized the use of the Gamecocks logo on Craven's headstone -- helped participate in the memorial tournament. For the silent auction held during the tournament, the Gamecocks donated a foursome at the University Club in Columbia as well as a "Carolina Package" that included a men's team golf bag, a dozen balls, license plate frame and a one-hour lesson with head coach Bill McDonald.

McDonald, a former Georgia Tech golfer, was moved by the gesture made on behalf of somebody not affiliated with his program other than being an avid Gamecocks fan.

"It's very humbling to be honest," McDonald said. "We just received word from them a couple months back. Obviously it's a tragic situation and we're honored and humbled by the thought. It's hard to put in words what that means."

With golf being a nonrevenue sport at the university, the donation will be put to good use. McDonald said it would especially help some of the reserve players in the program who don't enjoy the benefits of free equipment provided by manufacturers or have many options to travel to events. He annually takes all of his players on "qualifying trips" to courses in the Lowcountry, and the Craven donation will help defray those expenses.

"Trust me, everybody is going to appreciate anything we get," McDonald said.

Sapp, who was a college golfer at Spartanburg Methodist, knows that Craven would appreciate the proceeds of his tournament helping the reserves on the golf team.

"It's a good thing for some kid that goes to school," Sapp said. "That was the reason for it. I played college golf at a small school, and I know the lower-level guys don't get as much. Anything that could help is good."

McDonald hopes to come down to collect the check presented by the Cravens at the annual fanfest of the Aiken Gamecock Club on May 17. He's going to be in Atlanta trying to qualify for June's U.S. Open that afternoon, but he'll try to make it back to Aiken for the presentation.

Even if McDonald can't get there in time, Sapp believes his friend would be honored by the recognition in front of all his fellow South Carolina fans.

"I think that would be really good, especially at a Gamecock function," he said. "That would be very well received."

If the Cravens have their way, Ryan's memory will live on every year with the tournament and the proceeds helping support Gamecocks golf.

"We want to keep doing it," Debbie Craven said. "We threw this one together in just four weeks. By next year it will be better organized."