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The short end of the deal

Wesley Bryan is one of the PGA Tour’s best players around the green, thanks to Matt McCarley’s help

Posted: April 20, 2017 11:48 a.m.
Updated: April 21, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Photo courtesy PGA Tour/

RBC HERITAGE CHAMPION Wesley Bryan’s short game was honed as a youngster with plenty of help from Camden Country Club head pro Matt McCarley

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Not everything one hears from the lips of a teacher or mentor, necessarily, has to be the only way to accomplish a task.

As a youngster growing up in Columbia, Wesley Bryan had a father, George, who played collegiate golf at the University of South Carolina. One of the Bryan’s Gamecock teammates was Camden’s Matt McCarley. When it came time to teach his sons, Wesley and older brother George, the intricacies of the short game, the elder Bryan sought the advice of his old friend who, at the time, was a certified PGA professional who was freelancing as a golf instructor after having been a head pro at golf clubs in Myrtle Beach and Columbia.

In 1999, McCarley, who is now back home as the head pro at the Camden Country Club, got a call from George Bryan Sr. asking if he could come to Bryan’s golf center to work with his junior players and help craft the youngsters’ short game.

“Back in the day,” McCarley said, “my strong point and, where I earned my reputation, was from being good around the greens and teaching the short game. The main thing, from a mechanics standpoint, is that when those kids were growing up that they have real soft arms and not a lot of tension in your forearms.”

Included in the group of pupils were Bryan’s two sons. Wesley, who won last week’s RBC Heritage in Hilton Head for his first PGA Tour victory, was nine while George, who currently plays on the PGA’s Latin America Tour, was 11.

It did not take McCarley long to see that the Bryan boys stood out from the rest of the crowd when it came to the short game.

“I’ll never forget it,” said McCarley, a Camden native who doubles as the head golf coach at his alma mater, Camden High. “I was at the Lake Murray Golf Center watching kids hit bunker shots for the first time and you could tell that they were born to play golf. They were hitting bunker shots like grown men … you could tell they were born with this special ability to play golf.”

As the son of a golf professional who taught him the game from the first time he was able to grip and swing a club, Wesley Bryan now had two experienced men to help teach him the game. And, like most kids his age, Bryan was inquisitive when it came to golf. He admitted to double-checking McCarley’s teaching tips from time to time just to make sure his advice was on point.

“I remember always asking Matt about my swing and what he thought I should work on just to make sure he and my dad’s advice were similar,” said Bryan, who is currently 14th in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings.

For eight years, McCarley made twice-weekly trips --- on Tuesdays and Fridays --- to Bryan’s facility to work with the young players. The areas he focused on were chipping, putting and then, going to the range and hitting curved shots and low and high shots. “We hardly did much with the full swing,” he said. “I taught them to use different clubs around the green and when to use this club and when to use that club more than anything.”

In the summer months, the Bryans would oftentimes come to the Camden Country Club and play rounds with McCarley on the challenging Donald Ross-designed layout which puts one’s short game to the test. 

“We would come up here to the club in Camden and hit a lot of shots from around the green because this course teaches you how to have a good short game,” McCarley said.

Two days after winning for the first time on the PGA Tour, Wesley Bryan attributed part of his success to the instruction he received from McCarley during his developmental years.

“We met when he started working with my dad when I was just a little pup,” said the 27-year-old Bryan who has vaulted to 37th place in the most recent World Golf Rankings following his victory in his home state.

“I got a short game lesson every week from Matt growing up. He taught me a lot of different shots that helped me progress through the junior golf ranks.”

Like their father and McCarley, the Bryan brothers were staples on the junior golf circuit in the Palmetto State. Wesley, a standout golfer at Dutch Fork, then signed to play golf at USC and following his graduation in 2012, he turned professional. The brothers appeared on the Golf Channel’s golf reality show the Big Break in 2015 after they started their own Youtube channel featuring their performing golf trick shots.

By 2016, Wesley Bryan was beginning to dominate the PGA’s Web.com Tour in his first season on the circuit. He won the tour title after having scored three wins while punching his card for the PGA Tour in the process.

This year, the 27-year-old Bryan has entrenched himself as one of golf’s top young players. After a pair of fourth place finishes at Tour stops in the Genesis Open and the Honda Classic, he shot a final round 67 to rally back from having been four shots off the lead to win the RBC Heritage which assured him a spot in the 2018 Masters.

While McCarley said he could have never predicted the heights which Wesley Bryan would reach in his still-young career, he did see signs, early on, that he was working with a special talent.

“It’s awesome,” McCarley said when asked his his reaction to the accomplishments of the entire Bryan brood. “They’re great kids from a great family. Their sister is a great player who was up here last week and she is trying to play pro golf herself.

“For eight years, it was nice to be elbow-to-elbow with those kids trying to help them come along. At the time though, obviously, you had no idea that they would end up where they are.”

What McCarley said he instilled into Wesley Bryan and his siblings at an early age was to teach them the correct way to practice. The competitive drive, he said, was already in the Bryan’s DNA. In order to make teaching sessions more interesting, McCarley created plenty of competition during practice with elimination contests such as having the player whose ball is farthest from the hole has to sit out the rest of the drill.

These days, Bryan has his own golf coach on the Tour. He and McCarley shoot text messages to each other at least once a month, just to check on each other. McCarley said he does not provide advice when in conversation with one of the PGA Tour’s top young talents.

“Wesley has taken off. He is at the point with his short game where he just has to stay with what he’s got,” McCarley said. “He has already become known as having one of the top games on the PGA Tour. The kid can chip and putt it like nobody I’ve ever seen.”

McCarley said Wesley Bryan, his brother and sister are all extremely talented golfers whose success can be traced to their genes. “They’re talented. They were born with a gift,” he said.

For Wesley Bryan, not all the gifts he received on the golf course were hereditary. He said he learned many a lesson from McCarley, who helped him hone his game as a young boy. And, Bryan said, if it worked for him, it could work for others who are taught the game by his friend if they pay heed to the lessons they are being taught.

“Listen to Matt,” he said when asked to provide advice to young golfers in and around Camden who go to McCarley for help with their swing, along with their mental and physical approach. “He knows the game as well as anyone and really played a big part in the development of my golf game.”

 

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