DECATUR, Ala. – With his final day slip from first place to third in the Bassmaster Elite Series Dixie Duel, it’s not too much of a stretch to compare 20-year-old angler Bradley Roy to 22-year-old golfer Rory McIlroy.
While Roy didn’t have a big lead going into the final day at Wheeler Lake, like McIlroy did before his collapse on Sunday at this year’s Masters at Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Course, he did fall out of the lead on the last day of the Dixie Duel.
Roy doesn’t have a tournament title equivalent in the bass fishing world equal to the U.S. Open Championship that McIlroy captured in record-breaking fashion last week. But Roy does have that potential, demonstrated at an early age, just like McIlroy.
For Roy, his next chance to demonstrate the reality of that potential probably won’t come until next year in the Bassmaster Elite Series, although there’s still a chance he could be voted by fans into one of the four spots available for the Toyota Trucks All-Star Week to be held later this month in Alabama.
What’s important now is that Roy has broken his sophomore slump on the Elite Series with a third-place showing on Wheeler Lake. And the confidence he built by earning the 2010 Elite Series Rookie of the Year title is back.
“This week has been a confidence-builder for me because I had a sophomore slump, and I was kind of getting down on myself,” Roy said at the conclusion of the Dixie Duel. “You want to know you can catch ‘em. I went back out there and had a good tournament, and I feel good about it.”
Roy, who won’t turn 21 until November 2, has already experienced the highs and lows of bass tournament fishing. It helps you weather the lows if you’ve been steeped in the experience of the sport, which began for Roy at the age of “seven or eight” when he started pairing with his father, Anthony, in tournaments near their Lancaster, Ky., home. Lancaster is a small town (pop. 3,734 in the 2000 census), located in central Kentucky, that serves as Garrard County seat.
“I probably wasn’t helping my dad much in those tournaments when I was seven or eight years old,” Roy said. “But I was there, learning and progressing, and I got a lot better.”
Roy was good enough by the age of 13 that he already had seven sponsors when he won the 11-14 age group of the Junior Bassmaster World Championship in its inaugural year. It was held at North Carolina’s Lake Norman before the 2004 Classic, which was held nearby at Lake Wylie.
“Being around the pros, meeting them and learning from them was just awesome,” Roy said at the time. “I just came here to learn.”
Obviously, Roy has learned a lot in the ensuing years. By 2010, at the age of 19, Roy had qualified for the Bassmaster Elite Series, then he added the 2010 Elite Series Rookie of the Year title to his resume.
But this season has proven to be the ultimate learning experience. Roy has struggled. He completed the first five tournaments of the 2011 Elite Series without earning a check. His best finish was 61stplace at Georgia’s West Point Lake.
Roy finally cashed a $10,000 check with a 17thplace finish at South Carolina’s Lake Murray in May, then fell all the way down to 99thplace on the Arkansas River at Little Rock last week. The first two days of that event have been typical of Roy’s season.
“It wasn’t that I wondered whether I could catch fish or not, it just seemed like every time I made a decision, it was a bad one,” Roy said. “The first day at the Arkansas River I locked down and blanked. The next day I decided to lock up, and I caught 10 to 12 pounds, which was a great day on a tough fishery. But I got caught by a barge in the lock and didn’t get to weigh-in.”
That’s when the reality of the sophomore slump really sunk in. The whole idea of such a thing happening to him seemed unreal when Roy began the season.
“Last year, after a good rookie year, everybody told me that I needed to get ready for a sophomore slump,” Roy said. “I was like, nah, I’m going to do a lot better than I did last year.”
Roy finished 40thin the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings in 2010. By placing second at the Dixie Duel, Roy jumped to 65thin 2011 AOY rankings, up from 83rdgoing into the tournament.
“I had started trying too hard as far as pre-fishing and how I fished in tournaments,” he said. “But I think I’ve got all that worked out.
“I’ve had enough bad fishing.”
So what exactly will Roy do differently next year than he did this year?
“That’s the $64,000 question,” he said. “I’m still trying to figure out what practice is best for me. Do I go spend a week on a lake before the cutoff, or do I just look at aerial photos? I think I’m just going to try to keep doing as much homework as possible.”
Maybe it’s no coincidence that Roy’s last name also forms the last three letters of McIlroy’s name. With the first 20 years of his life spent so involved in the sport of bass fishing, it almost seems like Roy is destined to become a success, just like McIlroy. It will be something worth watching in 2012, to see if the young angler’s and the young golfer’s list of accomplishments continue to grow in tandem.