Wesley Bryan focuses on trophies, not trick shots

Wesley Bryan hits from the fourth fairway during the second round of the Tournament of Champions golf event, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, at Kapalua Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Wesley Bryan has a PGA Tour victory now, so he’s no longer just the guy who used to star in trick-shot videos.

Bryan won at Hilton Head Island, S.C., last year to earn his first start at Augusta National this year.

Bryan and older brother George IV did the videos starting in 2014, two years after Wesley graduated from the University of South Carolina. He, like his brother George, were standout golfers for the Gamecocks.

“I started doing them because I was really broke and really bored and me and my brother were beating it around on the mini-tours,” Bryan said. “We saw a couple videos go viral from other people that didn’t look overwhelmingly difficult, so we went out and tried them and found that I was pretty good at plucking the ball out of midair and so we just kind of ran with it.”

That was before Wesley Bryan took the Web.com Tour by storm in 2016, winning three times in his first 13 starts and earning a promotion to the PGA Tour late in the season.

Now in his second full year on the PGA Tour, Bryan has found that his trick-shot reputation is still hard to shake. In practice rounds at tour events, fans still ask him to do trick shots, which he politely declines.

“You get the sense that he’s grateful for the opportunity it (the videos) gave he and his brother, but he wants to be known as Wesley Bryan, the golfer,” said Augusta’s William Lanier, who is Bryan’s caddie. “He’s been called a trick-shot artist who turned into a great golfer, and that’s not the case. He was an All-American at South Carolina and led the Web.com Tour in money (in 2016).

“(The victory) at Hilton Head separates himself a little from that (trick-shots), for his performance,” Lanier said. “He’s done a good job on that. In 10 years, people will probably say, ‘Did you used to hit trick shots?’”

Lanier says he knows how talented Bryan is from seeing him up close.

“Wes has got the best set of hands I’ve ever seen,” said Lanier.

Bryan is also loaded with inner confidence. When he was making a push to qualify for the Masters in the weeks leading up to the 2017 tournament, he told a local reporter that if he didn’t make in 2017, he’d see him at the Masters in 2018.

He was right, and it didn’t take long for that prediction to come true. Bryan’s win at Harbour Town came the week after the Masters.

The victory came in his home state. Bryan was born and grew up in the Columbia area and went to the same Irmo, S.C., high school as Dustin Johnson.

Bryan became the first South Carolina born-and-bred golfer to win Hilton Head in the tournament’s history.

“Being the first South Carolina native to win, golly, that’s pretty cool,” Bryan said. “Just to be able to win in my home state was really, really special, and knowing that it punched my ticket to the Masters and opened up a lot of doors for me, it was really, really cool and I can’t wait to get back there and defend.”

But first there is the Masters, which is in Bryan’s newly adopted hometown. He moved to Augusta with his wife, Elizabeth, so she could attend nursing school.

“I live about two and a half, three miles from the (Augusta National) gate, so I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed that week and hopefully contending for a green jacket,” Bryan said.

Bryan was at the 2017 Masters as a spectator. He came out in the first round to mainly follow his friend, Russell Henley, who qualified at the last minute with a victory in Houston.

“I went on Thursday to watch a couple buddies play and enjoy the old concession food,” said Bryan, who claimed he eats “half of everything” on the menu. “It was an eight-minute drive down the road for me, so it wasn’t like I had to make a long trek to get here. There were a few guys who recognized me, so that was pretty cool. Outside the ropes a few people came up to say hi. It was really weird.”

Bryan has attended the Masters since he was a child. His father, George III, is a South Carolina club pro who was friends with fellow South Carolinian Hootie Johnson long before Johnson became a Masters chairman.