Playing Masters a treat for local Wesley Bryan

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Playing Masters a treat for local Wesley Bryan

PGA Tour

Playing Masters a treat for local Wesley Bryan

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Wesley Bryan was in elementary school when his father, George Bryan III, took him to his first Masters, in 1998.

Bryan, then a wide-eyed 8-year-old, remembers the first time he stepped on the historic grounds of Augusta National, on a rainy Monday. He remembers when Billy Andrade tossed him a Titleist Tour Balata 3 golf ball, identified by a pencil-marked hole in the ball’s surface, behind the eighth tee box. (That ball went into Bryan’s “cool stuff” drawer, where things have tended to disappear over time.)

Also disappearing was the food allowance George III gave young Wesley that day.

“I just remember my dad giving me a $20 bill and saying, ‘Here, this is your food money for the day,’” Bryan said. “I would spend it all up before noon on pimento cheese and egg salad sandwiches, and I would have to go walking back just to ask him for a little dessert money.”

Twenty years later Bryan will play in his first Masters, a treat greater than any Georgia peach ice cream sandwich for the golfer who grew up in Chapin, S.C., less than two hours from Augusta, and now lives, with his wife Elizabeth, less than 10 minutes from Augusta National.

“Having to wait 51 weeks to get here for the Masters has been a long wait,” said Bryan, who earned his ticket inside the ropes nearly a year ago, after winning the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town. “But it’s one that I’m definitely looking forward to.”

“Awesome, just completely awesome,” added George III, a club pro who played in the 1999 PGA Championship. George III took his sons (Wesley’s older brother, George IV, also is a pro golfer) to several Masters when they were growing up. The Bryan brothers, known early for their trick-shot videos and their time playing for South Carolina, also were afforded the opportunity to play Augusta National on occasion when they were younger.

One year when they were in high school, Wesley was recovering from knee surgery, so he rode around in a cart as George IV played a round with then-Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson. He recalls his brother hitting wedges into a few par 4s, including Nos. 11 and 17, and Johnson’s reaction to George’s club selections.

“Mr. Johnson said, ‘Dadgum it, we’ve got to do something about that,’” Wesley told The State in an article published Saturday.

Wesley Bryan played a practice round with Rory McIlroy Monday at the Masters. (Getty Images)

In his early visits to Augusta National, Wesley Bryan may have dreamed but he never thought that he’d actually be playing in a Masters there someday – that is, until last year. Bryan, who earned his Tour card two years ago after winning three times on the Web.com Tour in 2016, attended last year’s tournament as a spectator. While watching some of his buddies, including Jon Rahm and Russell Henley, compete, Bryan viewed everything with a different perspective than he had in the past.

“To go back right behind tee boxes and kind of see the lines that people were taking and especially around the greens where people were missing, I was looking at it from a different lens of instead of enjoyment,” Bryan said. “I was actually looking at it as preparation. So going out there I had a little more purpose watching than I had in the past.”

Bryan estimates he’s played Augusta National about 10-12 times now. For a first-timer, he feels well prepared. He’s picked the brains of local caddies and even watched final-round broadcasts of past Masters on YouTube.

“I would say I’m way more comfortable now than I was five weeks ago,” Bryan said.

Bryan’s Masters debut will be Bryan’s first tournament since he missed the cut at the Honda Classic, six weeks ago. The lengthy break came against the recommendation of Bryan’s manager, Andrew Kipper. But Bryan, who won his first Web.com Tour event coming off of five weeks rest, knew he needed some time to fix his game, mostly off the tee as the fade he was playing just wasn’t working.

Bryan currently ranks No. 212 – or last – on Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee.

“I felt like I was going in a direction that I wasn’t seeing any results for the first half of the year, and I knew that I was really close,” said Bryan, who has missed three consecutive cuts and has a best finish of T-27 this season, which came at Kapalua in a limited field.

“And I’ve never been one to play my way into form.”

While he rested at first, Bryan has been busy with the clubs in these last four weeks. He not only has played practice rounds at Augusta National but also local tracks Forest Hills and Bartram Trail – and he lipped out a putt for 59 in one of those rounds at the latter.

Bryan’s confidence is certainly trending upward. He knows he’s a longshot to win this week at Augusta National, but he personally believes his odds are a little better than most think.

Slipping on that coveted green jacket? It would be a dream come true for the local guy.

“I would say across the board this is the one that everybody wants to win,” Bryan said. “This is the one golf tournament that you don’t even have to be a golfer or know anything about golf to know about the Masters, so it runs way deeper than just the sport of golf.

“That green jacket, it’s an iconic sports memorabilia item, so it’s definitely one that would look really good in my closet.”

It surely wouldn’t go in the “cool stuff” drawer.

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