June 29, 2018
DENTON - Typically, if a student-athlete exhausts eligibility and turns professional before earning a degree, the "student" part of the equation takes a back seat to the "athlete."
Ian Snyman, however, has never been typical.
He displayed icy calm facing the best of Conference USA and the nation in his three-year UNT golf career that saw him earn the second conference golfer of the year award in program history and three trips to the NCAA tournament.
He played rugby - the slightly more savage version of American football - as a youth in his native South Africa.
And he free-dives and spearfishes, holding his breath and descending as much as 50 feet into the shark-infested waters near Cape Town, South Africa. For a hobby. For fun.
He also loves motorcycles, and went through two different ones in his time on the golf team, even having a minor accident and subsequent injury scare just days before the C-USA tournament this year.
No, Snyman is definitely not a typical student-athlete.
So it shouldn't come as a shock that Snyman has decided to finish his bachelor's degree in accounting while also pursuing his career as a professional golfer before diving into golf full-time after he earns his degree in May.
"The golf was the big bonus. That's why I came over to America," Snyman said. "The fact you can combine an education with golf? That's unbelievable what you guys have here. The programs, the education, everything is top-notch. Priority number one was to get my education and have a Plan B. That's what I'm busy doing now. I'll turn professional and then probably try to start working myself up and end up on the PGA Tour. That's the goal. I have to finish my degree, though. That's why I came here. I want to do that."
While his ability to spearfish in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is limited - it is only legal to take non-game fish in Texas and most water bodies are not clear enough - he has found time to hit the water and snorkel during a visit to Florida. Other than that, he has to wait until his annual trip home to South Africa over the winter break, and when he gets there, he's almost instantly in the water. His hometown of Bellville, a northern suburb of Cape Town, is 20 miles from both the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.
"That's my getaway," Snyman said of the sport. "Whenever I need to clear my head or do something exciting, I go right for that water. If I find clear water, I'll do it. I'll stay out for three or four hours and just enjoy it. I like the physical aspect of it, too. It's a great workout. And it's always unpredictable. You never know what you're going to see down there. Every time I go home, the majority of the time, I'm in the water."
Snyman said his dream catch is a Musselcracker fish. He saw a big one last December, but it was too fast for him to catch.
"Hopefully this December I'll have some better luck," he said.
He's seen plenty of sharks, but never a Great White - he hopes he never does. But that doesn't mean he hasn't faced danger before.
"I had one close call while spearfishing in Mosselbaai, South Africa," Snyman said. "Me and a friend went to a new spot. The water was crystal clear and the sea was calm. It was beautiful and there were plenty of fish. After about 40 minutes of exploring the reefs, the swell picked up and big waves started forming. We knew we had to act right away and swam for shore. We were about 150 yards out. A big swell carried us up against some rocks, thankfully we didn't get hurt."
Snyman only received three years of eligibility from the NCAA due to his international student status and the fact he waited a semester too long to enroll in college. He appealed for an extra year, but was denied. That didn't stop the reigning Conference USA Golfer of the Year from leaving his mark on the decorated Mean Green program.
Snyman finished in the top 20 in seven of the 10 tournaments he played last season and finished the year ranked No. 62 in the country in the GolfStat collegiate rankings. He also qualified for the NCAA Regionals in all three of his years with the program.
While Snyman said it is hard to find a correlation between spearfishing and golf, he said holding his breath for minutes at a time and always wondering what he might see five stories under the surface of the ocean helps provide a needed yin to golf's yang.
"I might get a little bit of endurance from it because it's such a workout but that's about it," Snyman said. "Golf is such a calm game. You have to keep your nerves down. Spearfishing is the complete opposite. When you see a fish, your heart starts pounding and you're out of breath, but you have to stay down longer.
"That's exactly what I need," he added. "It's the perfect balance I get from those two things."
Snyman's mother, Riette Snyman, steered Ian away from rugby, which his father and older brothers played competively, due to concerns over long-term injuries. By the time he was 3 years old, she had dug holes in their yard and bought him a plastic club. At 6 years old, she started him in lessons, and by age 9, he was playing competitively, shortly thereafter winning his first tournament.
After all of that, she said it was difficult to see her son go almost 9,000 miles away for college, but she knew it was best and that he'd succeed.
She can be proud now.
"I am so proud of Ian really focusing on his studies so well, seeing that he has to study and golf at the same time," Riette Snyman said in an email. "I will support Ian all the way after graduation to focus solely on his professional golf. It is Ian's dream to become a professional golfer. Ian knows that it is not all about becoming a professional golfer but also being prepared in life with a good education."
UNT coach Brad Stracke said he is not surprised with Snyman's decision to finish out his degree before moving on and diving in headfirst as a professional golfer. Snyman is currently enrolled in three summer classes and is on pace to graduate in May. He will also try to qualify for the Texas State Open next month, which would be his first event as a professional. If he can raise the necessary funds, he hopes to go to the Web.com Tour qualifying school at the end of the year.
"He's a hard worker," Stracke said. "He's dependable. He works hard in the classroom and on the golf course. He's just the perfect kid for your team, and he brings such a great work ethic and leadership ability. He's the total package."