They dream of becoming president, quarterback for the Gamecocks or Tigers, a fireman, an attorney, a doctor, playing basketball for coach Dawn Staley or shortstop for the Yankees.
Their targets change, an ebb and flow that comes through the years with introductions to new experiences. And sometimes the fondest expectations, those held dear from the earliest of days and never waver, come true.
Wesley Bryan’s did.
“I can’t remember not having a golf club in my hands,” he said, and his dad, George Bryan III, confirms the love affair with the game “since he could walk … or maybe before.”
That led to his dream, playing on the PGA Tour, and leads to this week. At age 26, Wesley Bryan will begin his first full season in golf’s major leagues, and he can’t wait.
He got a taste last year, a whirlwind of excitement that sent him from nowhere to golf’s top echelon, from a player best known for trick-shot artistry with brother George IV to a three-time winner on the Web.com Tour, from mini-tour events in 2015 to PGA Tour status in ’16 and hopes of making the FedEx Cup playoffs – in only four events.
Those who have watched Wesley Bryan excel in junior golf, at Dutch Fork High and the University of South Carolina aren’t surprised. They remember the high school championships, the overwhelming performance to win the State Juniors title at Orangeburg County Club and the impossibly low round – was it a 60 or a 62? – at Santee in U.S. Junior Amateur qualifying.
“He played in a different orbit those two weeks at Orangeburg and Santee,” said Charlie Roundtree III, one of the state’s foremost boosters of junior golf.
Roundtree has watched players develop in the state’s acclaimed junior program for years. He has seen some who “can’t miss” fail, and some with lesser expectations succeed. Bryan, he believes, has all the ingredients to prosper.
“Wesley obviously has the game to compete at a high level,” Roundtree says. “But he also has the mentality, the attitude. He responds to being on the road and doesn’t get mad on (bad) shots. He doesn’t show his emotions, but there’s nothing lackadaisical about him on the golf course.
“Now, he’s got to take that next step, and he always has.”
A proper introduction
George Bryan III, one of the state’s top teaching professionals, no doubt saw that sons George IV and Wesley and daughter Mary Chandler, who played at the College of Charleston, received a proper introduction to golf, and their family games brought new definition to “competitive.”
“Fun – but pretty intense,” said George III, who at 55 still doesn’t receive shots from his sons, one on the PGA Tour and the other through the first stage of Web.com Tour qualifying school.
“I wouldn’t take strokes anyway,” George III said. “They inspire me. Now and then, I (hit a drive) out there with Wesley.”
“Fun” keeps popping up in conversations about the Bryan clan and perhaps that’s a key to their success.
“The game has got to be fun,” George III said, and Wesley makes that part of his on-course philosophy. “I just go out and play golf,” he said.
“Wesley always could play (well),” said Chris Miller, a pro who heads the South Carolina Junior Golf Association. “At 4- or 5-years old, his short game was stupid good. Out at Timberlake, we would chip and putt for soft drinks and that kid would just wear us out. He wanted to play all the time. He had confidence then and he has that same confidence today.”
USC coach Bill McDonald saw the same characteristics during Bryan’s years (2008-12) with the Gamecocks.
“His short game and his passion to play will always be strengths,” McDonald said. “He never wanted to take a day off.”
Still, he didn’t find immediate success in the pros after graduating from USC in 2012. He played mini-tour events, he and George IV both appeared on the Golf Channel’s Big Break program, and their trick shots took the golf world by storm.
The ability to perform amazing feats with a golf ball attracted international attention. They went to Whistling Straits to shoot a video with Rory McIlroy. They flew in Sir Richard Branson’s private jet to the British business magnate’s private island to perform an exhibition for guests that included Greg Norman and emcee Chevy Chase.
All the while, Wesley focused on “being a player,” he said. “I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a trick-shot artist. I dreamed of being a player on the PGA Tour.”
The track to the big time began with his high finish in the Web.com qualifying school less than a year ago, late in 2015. He started the 2016 season with a tie for seventh, then won the third event and fashioned an amazing year that included three wins, a promotion to the PGA Tour and more than $625,000 in earnings between the two tours.
“I found out in that first tournament I could compete at a high level,” Bryan says. “It’s crazy to think about how much things have changed in a year, but I can’t get too wrapped up in that. I came to the realization that I have what I have (in his golf game), and that’s how I approach every round in every tournament. I just go play.”
That philosophy works. He goes into this week’s Safeway Open in Napa, Calif., only his fifth on the PGA Tour, already ranked 110th in the world.
‘Child at heart’
That’s Wesley Bryan, professional golfer, a man with a passion for the game, a dynamic short game, confidence, the ability to score and a perfect attitude.
Who is Wesley Bryan off the course?
“Wesley is a sweetheart,” Elizabeth Bryan, his wife of just more than two years, says. “He’s serious on the golf course, but he has a super-fun personality. He’s a child at heart.”
If he weren’t a professional golfer, perhaps he would be a chef. While she studied for her Physician Assistant degree in Augusta, Wesley handled domestic duties, including preparing the evening meal.
“Give him a few minutes in the kitchen and he’ll cook something delicious – without a recipe,” Elizabeth says. “He had dinner on the table every night.”
“I can whip up a meal or two,” he says.
After one of their favorite meals at one of their favorite restaurants, Wesley “decided he could prepare the house specialty better,” Elizabeth says with a laugh.
Elizabeth Gray and Wesley Bryan attended the same Irmo pre-school, but they don’t really remember each other from those days. They attended different high schools, she at Irmo and he at Dutch Fork, but they had mutual friends.
“The first time he called, I didn’t have his number in my phone and I thought it was a different Wesley,” she said.
He’s quite the dancer, Elizabeth told PGAtour.com, knows the lyrics to “way too many songs” and loves sweets.
Faith is an important part of his life, too, and he reads his Bible daily.
“Mom (Valerie) and Dad (George III) made sure we went to church every Sunday,” Wesley Bryan says. “We enjoyed church and USC had a great athletic ministry. Later, we went to NewSpring Church in Columbia and it’s awesome. After we moved to Augusta, we go to NewSpring in Aiken.”
“This is who he is,” Elizabeth says. “We pray together every night. We’re very thankful, and our priorities are God, family and then golf. We’re living a dream.”
Ten things to know about Wesley Bryan
1. He led the Web.com Tour in earnings with $449,392, winning three events. He earned his PGA Tour card for next season.
2. He attended Dutch Fork High in Irmo, just like Dustin Johnson, who led the PGA Tour in earnings.
3. He played golf at USC, as did older brother, George IV. His sister, MC, played for the College of Charleston.
4. His father, George, played in the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah and now runs the George Bryan Golf Academy in Chapin.
5. He and his brother are co-founders of Bryan Bros Golf and create trick-shot videos that have received widespread notice.
6. He chose golf over baseball because “it gave him the best chance at earning a college scholarship.”
7. He says the best sporting event he ever attended came in 2009 when South Carolina upset then-No. 1 Alabama.
8. Would like to trade places with Lebron James for a day “because I love to dunk on people and run fast.”
9. His favorite teams are the USC Gamecocks, Cleveland Cavs, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots and Atlanta Braves.
10. His bucket list includes going to Bora Bora, meeting Justin Bieber and meeting the President in the White House.