On the range with the Bryan brothers
WINDERMERE, Fla. – George and Wesley Bryan literally are surrounded by golf instruction.
The brothers’ home in Chapin, S.C., shares 10 acres with their father’s golf academy. They’ve been taking lessons from famed instructor Mike Bender since they were about 5.
An independent streak inherited from their father, George III, has kept the South Carolina teammates from becoming too reliant, or maybe not reliant enough, on these resources.
They don’t incorporate any information until it has passed their own trial-and-error process. George Bryan III embraces their errors. Like any father of college-age children, he wants his sons to be ready for the real world – or in their case, professional golf.
“That’s learning,” their father said. “That’s the process. Too many parents and teachers try to exempt their students from the frustration or the foul balls, so they never figure out cause-and-effect.”
The Bryan brothers have done pretty well thus far. George IV, a senior, and Wesley, a sophomore, are among the top 50 of the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com U.S. Rankings. They ended the fall college season by finishing in the top 10 at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational, one of the country’s premier events.
George hits it straighter than his younger brother, but Wesley is a world-class scrambler.
“He makes more birdies from the rough and the trees than the fairway,” George Bryan IV said. Wesley is “freaky” with a wedge in his hand, according to their father.
For now, George IV and Wesley are struggling with the same issue – the sequencing of their downswing. Both move their bodies too quickly in relation to their arms at the start of the downswing. Bender wants them to feel like the downswing starts with their arms dropping on the proper plane. Then the hips, shoulders and arms work in unison through impact.
Bender has prescribed several drills to feel the proper order of events, not that the brothers perform all of them.
“I like being in control as a player,” Wesley said. “If I’m going to make the change, it’s because I make the change.”
George III laughs when he hears that. He may wish his sons were a little more willing to accept advice, but he knows they inherited their independence streaks honestly.
George Bryan IV, 21 (Senior, South Carolina)
Top finishes: Two-time All-American (2007, ’09); No. 39 in Golfweek/amateurgolf.com U.S. Player Rankings; No. 51 in Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings; co-medalist, 2009 Rees Jones Intercollegiate; won 2007 Southeastern Amateur; won 2008 Schenkel E-Z-Go Intercollegiate.
What’s in the bag: Titleist 909 D3 driver (8.5 degree); Nike SQ 3-wood (13 degree); Titleist 909H hybrid (17 degree); Titleist 670s irons (3-PW); Titleist 200 series wedges (54 and 58 degree); Scotty Cameron 303 SSS putter; Titleist Pro V1x ball.
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Wesley Bryan, 19 (Sophomore, South Carolina)
Top finishes: No. 7 in Golfweek/amateurgolf.com U.S. Player Rankings; 2009 All-Southeast Region selection; runner-up at 2009 Northeast Amateur and 2009 North & South Amateur; quarterfinals, 2009 U.S. Amateur Public Links; Round of 16, 2008 U.S. Amateur Public Links; second, 2008 U.S. Amateur stroke play; co-medalist, 2008 Rees Jones Intercollegiate.
What’s in the bag: Titleist 909 D2 driver (9 degree); TaylorMade R9 3-wood (13 degree); Titleist 585H hybrid (17 degree); Titleist AP2 3-iron; Titleist ZB irons (4-PW); Titleist 200 Series wedges (52 and 58 degree); Scotty Cameron 009 putter with Pro Platinum finish; Titleist Pro V1x ball.
Mike Bender, 53
Title: Master instructor, Mike Bender Golf Academy, Lake Mary, Fla.
Notable students: Zach Johnson, Jonathan Byrd, Robert Damron, Mark Hensby, Vicky Hurst, Lee Janzen, Seon Hwa Lee.
Credentials: 2009 PGA of America National Teacher of the Year; two-time NCAA Division III champion at Cal State-Stanislaus (1979-80); played PGA Tour (1987-89); 1995 North Florida PGA Section Player of the Year.
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George Bryan III, 48
Title: Director of instruction, George Bryan Golf Academy, Chapin, S.C.
Credentials: 1998 Carolinas PGA Junior Golf Leader of the Year; former Carolinas PGA South Carolina chapter Player of the Year; qualified for 1999 PGA Championship and 2004 Verizon Heritage; won 1989 Carolinas PGA Match Play Championship.
George at the top: Hitting the wall
A proper transition begins with a proper end to the backswing.
Bender likes George IV’s body and arms to come to a brief, but defined, stop at the top of the backswing. When George is swinging poorly, his hips and upper body begin unwinding before his arms have completed the backswing.
This causes his arms to lag, the shaft to drop under the proper plane and the clubhead to get “stuck” behind his hands. The clubhead swings too far in-to-out at impact, causing pushes and hooks.
To re-create a proper transition, George grips a club upside-down and takes practice swings with a wall against his left side. He tries to “stick” the butt of the club into the wall before swinging down to waist level.
“It gives me a defined end to the backswing, so I can focus on starting
my downswing properly,” George said.
If that transition is too quick, the grip will bounce off the wall, Bender said.
Wesley’s connected: Get the upper and lower body working together
With a towel across his chest and tucked under his arms, Wesley takes abbreviated swings to work on the proper relationship between his lower body and upper body during the downswing.
By swinging just past waist-high, Wesley keeps his hands from getting behind his body, ensuring that his hands don’t lag behind his upper body during the downswing. As Wesley’s arms swing down from waist level, his hips unwind.
“I’m trying to keep my (upper) body back and fire my right side,” Wesley said.
After impact, Wesley wants the clubhead to be slightly right of the target line (pictured, above right). When Wesley has to turn his hands excessively at impact, “I pull the club across my body instead of keeping it out in front of me.” Basically, the club exits too low and to the left after impact.
Here’s another drill that Bender suggests to feel the proper impact: Place a club down your target line, with the grip end where the ball normally is. Take your address, then push the club out of the way by turning your hips – and letting the arms follow – not by flipping your hands at it.
Wesley’s legs: Feel the proper turn
Wesley’s right knee is one of the culprits when his transition is too fast.
“His right knee jumps in and gets going too fast laterally,” George III said. “The ball drill encourages more of a turn with the hips instead of a slide.”
Wesley makes practice swings with a soccer ball between his legs to keep his right knee from sliding too fast.
After dropping his arms to waist level, Wesley makes a slight squatting motion. The increased distance between his knees causes the ball to drop.
“I’m trying to feel separation between my hips and knees,” Wesley said. “My right knee has a tendency to buckle instead of have good separation.”
Upon separation, Wesley’s right knee and hip can turn over to his left side.
George’s downswing: Feel like a cast
To combat excessive lag in his downswing, George focuses on an unconventional feeling.
“I feel like I’m trying to hit flop shots with my 6-iron,” he said. “I do feel like I’m casting a little bit, trying to hit it higher.”
Most players need to feel their hands ahead of the ball at impact. When George is swinging poorly, the club gets too far behind his hands and he has to flip it at impact.
To fix this, Bender has George make swings with a “Swing Guide,” a yellow training aid that is used to help players feel the proper wrist cock. The guide is snapped onto the club’s shaft (pictured).
Most players want to feel the guide hit their left wrist on the backswing. George, however, makes three-quarter swings without the guide touching his wrist, thereby promoting less wrist set.
Bender wants George to feel like he’s mimicking Steve Stricker’s swing, which has very little wrist hinge.
“I want him to feel like his downswing is all arms and his back stays to the target a little longer,” Bender said.
Most players would consider this “casting” the club, but “it’s impossible to cast the club if you’re coming from the inside,” Bender said.
When done properly, George’s left arm and shaft should form a straight line just after impact.