Tyler Brewington’s story begins in late August with all the potential for tragedy. A young, charismatic college athlete running on fumes – he awoke early that morning, as usual, to play golf – falls asleep at the wheel on a late-night ride home from a friend’s and crashes into a telephone pole. The car is split in half. Also fractured is the sixth vertebrae in Brewington’s neck.
Brewington, a 21-year-old junior at Division I Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., got lucky. He spent a little less than a month in a neck brace and, after petitioning the school’s medical staff harder than a well-paid Washington lobbyist, was cleared to play the last three tournaments on Rider’s fall schedule.
“I probably should have been in the brace longer, but I just could not not play golf this fall,” Brewington says. “The golf course is my home.”
His return proved inspirational, as the Broncs won the Bucknell and Cornell invitationals. Brewington led from the front, as he took medalist honors in each and was second in his other start, a performance that propelled him more than 500 places in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.
Not bad for a player forced to swing at about 60 percent by his estimate and whose short putting continues to trouble him.
“If Tyler made putts, he would have won these tournaments by 15 shots – he missed eight 5-footers a round,” says Rider’s coach and recent alum Bob Whartenby. “His ballstriking has just gotten ridiculous, some of the best I’ve ever seen.”
Overcoming a fractured vertebrae probably didn’t seem that bad to Brewington after dealing with another malady in the spring: the half-shanks, which sent him to his first formal instruction, with Richie Berkheiser, a teaching pro/range owner near his hometown of Orangeville, Pa., who used to work under the legendary Jackie Burke. (Brewington learned the game from his father, Richard, who played college golf at the University of Maryland and later on regional mini-tours.) Their initial efforts focused on fixing Brewington’s full-swing posture, balance and alignment. Improvement came quickly enough that Brewington reached U.S. Open sectional qualifying, where he was paired with, and impressed, veteran PGA Tour pro Glen Day.
“As we walked down 18, he said to me, ‘Tyler, your game from the tee to about 40 yards in is almost as good as it needs to be. If you really work on your putting and short game, I think you can get to the level you want,’ ” Brewington recalls. “That really helped me get a focus on where I was.”
Where he wants to be is the big show – “He’s about 150 percent serious about turning pro,” says Whartenby.
Now, Brewington is trying to propel Rider to its first NCAA Championship this spring.
“I can’t express in words how special it was to win at Bucknell in front of my family,” Brewington says. “We all looked at life differently after the accident. You realize how much you take things for granted – like a round of golf.”