PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Down to his final start on his medical extension, Wesley Bryan said he was feeling the pressure as he straddled the cut line on Friday at the Valspar Championship.
“I usually don’t sweat out cut lines,” he said. “Yesterday felt a little different, for sure.”
Bryan, who missed five months last year with a wrist injury, made birdie at No. 7, his 16th hole of the day at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course, to improve to 3 under and right on the cut line, which came at 3-under 139, the lowest 36-hole cut in tournament history. But one hole later, he was in between clubs – deciding between 4-iron or hybrid – at the 224-yard par-3 8th and tried to cut a hybrid into the wind. He overcooked it long and left, 42 yards past the hole, across the cart path and under bushes.
“I was in a world of hurt over there in the left hedges,” he said.
But Bryan, who made a living performing trick shots with his brother, George, before making it on the PGA Tour, got on his knees and whacked it out and got up and down for bogey. Then all he did was rip a 3-wood to the left corner of the ninth fairway and wedged to 4 feet and made birdie.
“Bogey on the 17th hole was way better than the birdie on the last,” he said.
Bryan gathered himself and made the clutch birdie knowing full well he had to make the cut to have any chance of satisfying his medical and improving his status on Tour. In his final of 21 starts he was granted, Bryan needs a solo sixth to retain full status or a solo 51st to stay in the top 126-150 category. That Bryan, who had missed the cut in his last three starts, delivered with the proverbial gun to his head came as no surprise to his caddie, William Lanier.
“When he has to get something done, he gets it done,” Lanier said. “He’s got no quit. Even at his worst, he fights to the end. Rather than shooting 79, he’ll shoot 78.”
Where does that grit and determination with his back against the wall come from, Bryan was asked? “I guess I learned it from my dad,” he said. “He was always a real scrappy player. I mean, he had the talent of a squirrel and made something out of it.”
Bryan, 31, has had a promising career short-circuited practically since his breakthrough victory at the 2017 RBC Heritage, recording just one top-10 finish at the 2017 John Deere Classic since slipping on the tartan jacket at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. In January 2019, he underwent shoulder surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Last year, he injured his left wrist hitting a tee ball at his home course in South Carolina.
“It just exploded,” he said.
If there was a silver lining in being sidelined for extended periods of time, it is that the injuries have lined up with the birth of his first daughter when he had shoulder surgery and his second daughter being born as he recuperated from wrist surgery.
“Those are times I’d never be able to get back and I’d have missed a lot and I was able to see them grow up under our own roof being home for an extended period of time,” he said. “That was a blessing, for sure.”
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Bryan explained that it wasn’t playing golf that he missed so much as the simple act of competing and the camaraderie with his fellow pros. He said his wrist is “95 percent” better and he’s prepared to play as much as he can until the end of the season. How many events he can get into may come down to the final round of the Valspar Championship. Bryan shot a 1-under-par 70 in the third round and currently sits T-52, living on the edge once again. He strung together three straight birdies to start the back nine but finished with a bogey meaning he’s got no room for error.
“I had an opportunity to make some birdies today, didn’t, made some bad bogeys and I guess it will take a special one tomorrow,” he said.
Whether he retains some status this week or not, Bryan will still have past champion status but it is lower in the pecking order behind the 126-150 category. Would a return to doing trick shots be his backup plan?
“I hung it up a while ago,” he said. “I think if the phone rang, I could still do it.”