During the lean years, trick-shot master Wesley Bryan, 26, used his YouTube fame to stay financially afloat. Then he pulled off the biggest trick of his career: three quick wins on the Web.com Tour—and a shot at the bigs.
You're one of the 2017 Tour rookies creating a lot of buzz. But after turning pro in 2012, it took you four years to earn your card. What was the biggest challenge?
Not knowing week to week if you're getting a paycheck. I got married right out out of [college], so I had bills to pay. It never weighed on me when I pegged it in the ground, but when I got home from a tournament—maybe I made the cut and finished 20th, which means, after expenses, I ended up with a couple hundred bucks more than I started with. So I worried about paying the rent. That was discouraging, but it was also my No. 1 motivator. It's what got me up early and kept me out late practicing.
Under the "Bryan Bros" moniker, you and your brother, George, have gotten two and a half million views on YouTube with your trick-shot videos. Why did you start making them?
In 2014, when we were messing around on the mini tours, we saw a trick-shot video and wanted to try making one ourselves. We picked it up pretty quick, and it ran wild on the Internet, so we thought we could make a business out of it. We were both really broke and really bored, so we started pumping out videos to make enough money to support our pro careers and take some of the burden off our shoulders.
Among your video stunts, you've nailed crazy pitch shots, using basketballs and soccer balls. Does any one trick stand out as a great success or failure?
Every shot we tried we pulled off—except one. We were trying to hit a ball to a guy sitting in a canoe on a lake, wearing a baseball glove. The canoe flipped, but we put the video out anyway and got a couple hundred thousand views. [Laughs]
Through all of the video silliness, how did you stay focused on your aspirations?
We were still keeping our games sharp. When we weren't [filming], we were working on our golf games. I was getting better every month and felt my game was on a good trajectory.
You competed on The Big Break in 2015, but what turned out to be your true big break?
The second stage of Web.com Q School in 2016. I had failed a couple of years before, but I knew that if I could get through the second stage and get a chance at the final stage, I would at least have status on the Web.com Tour, and maybe get a couple of sponsor's invitations [to the PGA Tour]. When I made it through, there was a big sense of relief. I knew I had somewhere to play in 2016. That was the turning point.
You won three of 13 tournaments on the Web.com Tour in 2016. How do you explain that red-hot play?
I was in contention the very first week—I played into the last group and finished in the Top 10. So right out of the gate I knew that my game was good enough, and that the hard work had paid off. I could compete on that level.
That success earned you a "battlefield promotion" to the Show. How'd you find out?
After [my first win], I knew I needed to make a little more money to lock up my card, so I kept my head down and went to work. The next time I teed it up was in Cartagena [Colombia], in April, and I finished in the Top 10. I was sitting in my hotel room in Cartagena, running the numbers, and it hit me: I'm going to the PGA Tour! It was a really cool feeling. I ordered a pizza and watched the Masters finish.
Based on your dozen or so appearances, what has surprised you most about the PGA Tour?
It's just a bigger scale: more people, more distractions during the week, so you have to learn how to manage those. But the hardest part is not knowing the courses. I'm teeing it up against guys who've been playing for 10 or 15 years. On the Web.com Tour, everyone is in the same boat, so it's a level playing field. But on the Tour, there's a lot more experience.
Your brother has been with you every step of the way. Are you expecting him to join you on Tour soon?
He's been a great friend and supporter of mine, but he's got the game, so he's good enough to make it out on Tour as well. I'll just keep supporting him until he makes it.
Looking back on your road to the Tour, do you think you'd be here without the trick-shot gig?
I don't know. Being able to chase my dream on my own and pay my own way, without beating down someone's door for support, was huge. And I had a blast doing it. Every day I got to wake up and do what I loved. There are a lot of people who would trade a day job for that opportunity. Part of the fun is the journey, so I'm just thankful to have had it.
One thing I know for sure: A trick shot is all about the celebration.
The majority of the shots my brother George and I pulled off came on the first five attempts. You have to make people think you've done something really difficult. That's partly why Tiger got so popular—he was winning and pulling off crazy shots, but he was also yelling, fist-pumping and celebrating. He sold it.