Ryan Gay hatched a plan four years ago that would lead him to a successful career as a professional golfer. He still maintains he can and will play the game for a living.

The journey, he acknowledged, was unlike what he imagined.

“These last four years, they’ve gone by fast,” said Gay, a Pittston native and senior golfer at St. John’s University. “I started planning it all out four years ago but I went backward. The last two years, I haven’t played up to my own expectations. It was very uncharacteristic of me. Sometimes things get worse before they get better. Sometimes you have to take a few steps back before taking 10 forward.”

Gay did took a few small steps back. He enrolled at the University of New Mexico in the fall 2009 with high hopes and expectations of a promising collegiate career — but they never materialized.

The three-time Maine Amateur champ lost his swing and then his confidence during his stay in Albuquerque, N.M.

After playing sparingly for the Lobos, Gay decided to transfer back East, and found a new home at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. this fall.

His plan, he says, is back on track.

“It takes a long time to come back,” Gay said. “My swing has changed a lot over the years. I got into some bad habits. With a golf swing, it can take a couple years to come back. I knew changes would have to be made if I wanted to play golf for a living. But things are headed in the right direction. I’m doing the right things and it will all fall into place.”

St. John’s golf coach Frank Darby said Gay has settled nicely into the program, which produced 2011 PGA Tour champion Keegan Bradley.

“I love the kid,” Darby said. “I wish I could have him for one more year. He’s definitely one of the leaders on the team. He knows what college golf is all about. He has so much knowledge. He’s definitely the older statesman of the team. I wish I had him for another year, but it’s time for him to move on.”

The Red Storm are competing in the Northwestern Spring Invitational this week in Glenview, Ill. They will next travel to Raleigh, N.C. on Saturday for the Wolfpack Classic. The Big East championships get under way April 28.

Gay is playing No. 3 for St. John’s, which hopes to challenge Louisville and Notre Dame for the Big East title.

“We have a chance to win the Big East championships,” Gay said. “That is a big goal, along with playing in the NCAA championships.”

Added Darby: “I have three guns on the team and Ryan is one of them. It’s going to be a showdown with the Louisville and Notre Dame. We’ll need our guys to step up.”

Gay said he will turn pro after the Maine Amateur on July 9 at the Augusta Country Club.

“Starting out I will play the Maine Open,” Gay said. “I’ll stay at home to save some money and will travel around and do other state opens. Then I plan to move to Florida next winter and play on the PGA Tour Latin America.”

PGA Latin America is a new developmental tour that features 11 events in 15 weeks. Gay said he also hopes to play in PGA of Canada.

“If I can get comfortable with my swing again I will be back to where I’m used to be,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of work. I know I can still improve. I feel good about it.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640
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