With the deadline to qualify for the 2017 Masters approaching, Wesley Bryan sent a simple text response to a question seeking a quote about his chances of earning a spot in his adopted hometown major.
“If I play well the next few weeks, I’ll see ya there,” Bryan texted. “And if I don’t then I’ll see ya there next year.”
We will indeed see the former Gamecock and current Augusta resident at next year’s Masters. With 51 shopping weeks left before the 2018 field is set, Bryan already locked up his spot with a come-from-behind victory at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town on Sunday. He became the first South Carolina born-and-bred golfer to win the Palmetto State’s premier PGA Tour event now in its 49th year.
“This is the best-case scenario winning this week – now I’ve got 51 weeks to get ready for Augusta in my own city,” Bryan said. “Unbelievable. Just a dream come true is the only way to describe it. I’m looking forward to the privilege of getting to tee it up in the Masters.”
Bryan has long had a different relationship with the Masters than most PGA Tour pros. It’s been an annual part of his life for as long as he can remember.
“We grew up pretty much going to practice rounds almost every single year,” said Bryan, whose father is a South Carolina club pro who had regular access to the annual major.
“I think one of my fondest memories is we were sitting on one of the tee boxes and Billy Andrade came over, singled me out, gave me a golf ball and turned me into a big Bill Andrade fan,” Bryan said. “Hopefully, come a year from now, I can do the same for a kid and create a memorable experience for them.”
Bryan played Augusta National a couple of times when he was in high school and college. His dad is friends with former club chairman Hootie Johnson, who actually cited Bryan’s older brother, George IV, as a bigger inspiration than Tiger Woods and Co. for lengthening the course in 2005 after playing a casual round with the teenage Bryan brothers.
“(George) had a couple wedges into the par 4s and Mr. Johnson said, ‘I think we’re going to lengthen these; we can’t have a 17-year-old hitting wedges into the holes,’” Bryan said.
Because the Masters has always been such a big part of his life, Bryan didn’t feel out of place showing up two weeks ago as a patron. He attended the first round on Thursday to follow his good friend Russell Henley, who qualified at the last minute with a victory in Houston.
“I went on Thursday to watch a couple buddies play and enjoy the old concession food,” said Bryan, who claimed he eats “half of everything” on the menu but is partial to the peach ice cream sandwiches. “It was an eight-minute drive down the road for me so it wasn’t like I had to make a long trek to get here. There were a few guys who recognized me, so that was pretty cool. Outside the ropes a few people came up to say hi. It was really weird.”
Not as weird as it felt late Sunday when Bryan rallied from four strokes behind to start the day and found himself with a one-shot lead playing the final holes at Harbour Town. He admitted on national television that he “threw up a little in my mouth” on the 17th tee box.
“It really happened,” he said Monday. “I tried to burp a little bit and I had this weird feeling come over my stomach. I threw up and ran over to the little water canister thing and chugged down a water, refocused and hit a good shot onto the green and a good putt that didn’t go in. But the nerves never came over me when I was over a shot down the stretch. The one little episode on the 17th tee box was really the only nerves I ever experienced.”
Bryan is arguably the most remarkable story in golf over the last two years. Once known for making trick-shot videos with his older brother, Bryan caught fire after making it through Q school and onto the Web.com Tour in 2016. He won three of his first 13 starts to earn a battlefield promotion to the PGA Tour.
Now he owns a PGA Tour victory in just 18 career starts and is the leading candidate for rookie of the year.
“It’s crazy looking back,” he said. “What all has transpired in the last 18 months has been completely life changing and also humbling. I want to keep my head down and keep going to work. I’ve got now one PGA Tour victory but I don’t want it to end there. I want to keep going and keep putting myself in that position. Man, I love being in contention. That’s why you tee it up.”
His play has certainly changed the bank balance of a once struggling mini-tour pro, but it hasn’t changed Bryan. He and his wife, Elizabeth, drove home from Hilton Head Island and celebrated in the same fashion with a late-night trip to the Taco Bell on Peach Orchard Road. The night manager let them inside at 1 a.m. to pose for a selfie in his Heritage tartan jacket.
“Taco Bell is kind of my jam,” Bryan said. “Needless to say we were the only ones in the restaurant.”
Bryan acknowledged that the red plaid coat he won clashed poorly with the bright pink pants he always wears on Sundays.
A green jacket, however, would pair perfectly.
“It’s obviously going to be a really special week and I’m definitely looking forward to it,” he said of the Masters. “But at the same token, the journey doesn’t end there. Come April next year I want to be in good form and I want to contend and hopefully put on a green jacket to go with the plaid one. I figured they’d look pretty good sitting side-by-side in the closet. It would look a little better with my Sunday outfit, for sure.”
The way Bryan has fulfilled his promises so quickly, doubting his potential to realize his ultimate dream might be foolish.