Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 16, 2017

From Social Media Sensation To PGA Tour Winner

Next year will bring the golden anniversary of the RBC Heritage, the only PGA Tour event played in South Carolina. Because the tournament’s venue is the tight Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, a resort course that any amateur golfer with a wallet thick enough to cover the hefty greens fee can play, it’s a Tour stop that is personally familiar to many fans watching at home. While it’s been a number of years and several increases in the price of admission since On Sports and Life took a turn around the Pete Dye layout, every year’s Heritage brings back memories of that round.

For many seasons the Tour’s schedule has placed the Heritage the week after the Masters. Given the short distance from Augusta, Georgia to Hilton Head Island the tournament’s placement on the calendar makes sense. But because some pros point their game toward the majors and then take a week or two off, that schedule means some of the game’s top players are often missing from the field at the Heritage.

For the last two years the most notable absentees have been golf’s new Rat Pack, the foursome of Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and Smylie Kaufman. Immediately after the Masters both this year and last the four have jetted to the Bahamas for a week of partying. Many celebrities and star athletes go out of their way to seek privacy while on vacation. But apparently that’s not a thought that would occur to a group of twenty-somethings in this social media age. Fans have not had to look hard to find pictures and video of the four carousing on the beaches and golf courses of the Lucayan Archipelago. It’s a reminder that while they may have eighteen PGA Tour wins between them (half by Spieth), they are still four guys between twenty-three and twenty-eight years old who at times are going to act their age.

Although this year the best post about what the foursome called SB 2K17, for spring break 2017, was a tweet by an 81-year old. Gary Player posted this picture of himself sitting alone on a beach, feigning disappointment at not having been invited to join the seasonal frolic. Who said social media was only for the younger generation?

With or without Spieth and company the Heritage went on. Despite the occasional issues caused by its place on the schedule the tournament has an impressive list of winners. Arnold Palmer on the inaugural event in 1969, and Jack Nicklaus donned the tartan jacket that’s awarded to the winner six years later. Tom Watson won the Heritage twice, as did Johnny Miller and more recently Jim Furyk, though those are paltry numbers compared to the five wins that have been racked up by Davis Love III. The Tour’s foreign contingent has also been represented, from Bernhard Langer the week after his first Masters win in 1985, to Greg Norman three years after that. Three of the last five winners of the Heritage have been foreign-born, including South Africa’s Branden Grace, who defeated England’s Luke Donald and Scotland’s Russell Knox in an all-overseas playoff just last year.

But in all forty-eight previous editions of the Heritage, a South Carolina native had never won. This despite the fact that the Palmetto State has given the PGA Tour 2009 U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover, the father-son duo of Jay and Bill Haas, three-time PGA Tour winner Russell Henley and of course Dustin Johnson, the number one ranked golfer in the world, among others. That long drought finally ended Sunday afternoon when 27-year old Wesley Bryan rallied from four shots down at the start of the final round to win his first PGA Tour title.

The native of Columbia played college golf at the University of South Carolina, and spent a few years grinding his way through various mini-tours before earning his card on the developmental tour last season. Bryan made the most of that opportunity by winning the Chitimacha Louisiana Open early in the season, then adding a victory at the El Bosque Mexico Championship a month later. In August he took home a third title, winning in a playoff at the Digital Ally Open in Kansas. Just as hitting enough home runs in AAA will earn a minor leaguer a call-up to The Show, three wins mean an automatic promotion to the PGA Tour. Bryan became the eleventh player to earn his Tour card in that fashion.

He won’t be heading back to the minor leagues any time soon. Sunday Bryan used a string of four straight birdies on the front nine to move up the leader board, then added two more on the inward side. It was the last of those, on the 588 yard par-5 15th hole that finally moved him to the top of the pack. A sterling wedge shot from 87 yards out in the fairway for his third left him with less than five feet for birdie, and Bryan converted. Helped by the fact that 54-hole leader Jason Dufner faded badly, Bryan then parred his way in to earn PGA Tour victory number one. The win comes with a ticket to next year’s Masters, Tournament of Champions, and Arnold Palmer Invitational, a two-year Tour exemption, and a check for $1.17 million.

Perhaps Bryan was fated to win at Harbour Town, given the focus on social media during the week. For up until late Sunday afternoon, he was best known not as a PGA Tour player but as a Youtube sensation. For the past few years Bryan and his brother George have been posting trick shot videos that have cumulatively attracted millions of views. This one of their 2014 greatest hits is but one example. Of course it would be impolite to ask how many takes it required to execute some of the shots. After all, it’s on the Internet, so it must be true; and besides, now fans know that Wesley Bryan can hit some very good conventional golf shots as well.

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