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Bryan climbing professional ladder

George Bryan IV lined up a three-footer for eagle on his closing hole at Cobblestone Park. The little four-foot, right-edge putt would give him a 63 on a course he played hundreds of times but there was nothing on line with this stroke. Not this time. It was just a tune-up for much bigger rounds that are forthcoming.

Those are knee-knockers for most golfers. Most would turn and anxiously look for the pick-it-up call from their playing partner. That doesn’t happen on the Tour. It doesn’t happen on any of the Tours, actually. Bryan is a professional golfer and he gave it a quick read before calmly sinking the putt. Sixty-three. It was a good round for anyone on any day at any time and under any circumstance.

It didn’t seem like an overly big deal as Bryan took off his cap and shook the hand of the duffer, yours truly, that he played with. His expectations for his golfing future are high. Certainly much higher than overcoming some 27.5-stroke handicap conceded after a challenge made on Twitter (@GeorgeBryanIV) just a couple weeks before.

Bryan agreed to an on-course interview and 18-hole match at the home course of the Gamecocks, Cobblestone Park, a place he has teed it up more often than he could count. After four years at South Carolina, three of which he earned All-American honors, he is now a pro.

On the range

The driving range is a place where Bryan has spent countless hours that certainly add up to years. His father, George III, is a local golf instructor located in Chapin. George IV, the oldest of two sons, took to the game early and excelled from the word go.

In high school at Dutch Fork, he earned all-state honors all four years and was named the Jay Haas Player of the Year in 2005. GB4, as he signed his scorecard, played in the British Amateur, the U.S. Amateur in 2005, and also won countless tournaments on the state-wide and regional level.

He was a hot-shot golfer with eyes solely on one school. Most didn’t coaches didn’t bother to waste their time recruiting him as he was going to be a Gamecock.

“If they would have been really, really bad I may have decided to look around a little bit,” Bryan said. “But I can’t imagine going to a school I didn’t pull for no matter what. I knew USC was where I always wanted to go.”

He flourished at the school which he grew up just a short drive from. His freshman year, he finished in the top five in his second ever collegiate event. Bryan finished 10th overall in the NCAA West Regional that year on his way to honorable mention All-America honors.

By the time his four-year career was over, he was only the third golfer in school history to earn All-American honors three times and posted the lowest career scoring average in USC history (72.37). Bryan had 11 top-5 career finishes, 17 top 10’s, and 24 top-20 finishes in his 46 career events.

As storied a career as he had, one of the two highlights GB4 pointed out that he’ll always remember is playing with his younger brother, Wesley, the first tournament of his junior year. Wesley was a freshman at the time, George IV a junior. The Gamecocks finished third in the tournament and George IV had one of his worst scoring tournaments of his career but representing his school for the first time with his brother made that event a memorable one.

Like all brothers, they compete at everything. From the golf course to video games, they try to one-up each other. There’s also plenty of respect and admiration for one another as well.

“He’s got a PGA Tour short game right now,” George IV said of his younger brother. “He hits some just absolutely stupid shots.”

For those wondering, “absolutely stupid shots” is a good thing.

Teeing off

Bryan finished up his Sport & Entertainment Management degree last August and now has to make a living swinging the sticks. It isn’t a bad life but it is a hard one to get started in. Golfers, no matter how good coming out of college, don’t just appear on the PGA Tour over night. Some will get sponsor’s exemptions and such but most have to earn their way up the pecking order in what could be viewed as golf’s minor leagues.

The E-Golf Tour, a southeast region tour, is where Bryan will spend much of the next few months. The Irish Creek Classic Tournament this weekend, which was supposed to be Bryan’s first event on the tour this season, was cancelled due to heavy rains. It’s a shame, given how well he’s playing right now.

Bryan though, through the first four holes of his round at Cobblestone Park, had three-putted two of the first five holes. Sitting at plus-two, he wasn’t playing his best golf. Standing 5-foot-10 and maybe 165 pounds soaking wet, Bryan can really lay into it off the tee routinely piping it down the fairway well over 300 yards.

The irons were finding the green but, at least early, the flat stick wasn’t working. There’s nothing that will send a golfer through the roof any quicker than a three putt. Hit it 450 yards in two shots and then have it take three more to go 20 feet will cause anyone to lose it. That is what would have happened for Bryan a short time ago during his college days and before.

“I’d throw tantrums. It’s kind of comical looking back at it,” Bryan said of his on-course attitude when things wouldn’t go his way. “Nothing ever good comes from being mad on the course. It would lead to bogies and bad shots plus it doesn’t make you look good. Now I’m more stress-free when I’m on the course.”

In March, he has finished second and tied for first (losing in a three-man playoff) in two Hooters Carolina Series Tour events. Despite his slow start to the round, Bryan said he has been playing the best golf of his career. He would show it soon enough.

Shooting birdies

To play golf at the highest level, one has to have the proper mindset. Even though it was just a friendly round with a challenge easy enough to overcome given the level of his competition, Bryan didn’t let the early slipups bother him. An approach shot to the par four 7th hole slid off his club face and ended up a bit short and right of the green.

There wasn’t a second hack at the ground or a frustrated slam of the club back into the golf bag. Instead, he grabbed his wedge and chipped it in for a birdie, his first of the day. There were many more to follow. Bryan got on a roll and birdied seven of the next eight holes. His demeanor remained the same in the birdie run as it did in two-bogey start.

Bryan concedes that the mental side of the game caused him to struggle at times but it’s also an area that he has improved dramatically.

“I kind of knew but I didn’t want to believe it,” Bryan said. “Really my junior year is when I started really getting involved in my faith. I changed the way I approached the game. I wouldn’t really care what I did in front of other people or who was watching. It’s not all the way there but it’s pretty close to where it needs to be to compete at the highest level.”

For him to be successful, his even-keel approach is the way it has to be. Bryan admits that right now, he’s playing the best golf of his career. It isn’t that one area of his game has improved but all of it has gotten a little bit better.

“Yeah, definitely. I’ve got all the shots,” Bryan said when asked if he could compete at the highest level. “I know I could go out there and contend with the way I’m playing right now. I just have to stay patient. It’s not a game where you can force things.”

While he can’t force his way into the big events and onto the top tours, he can play his way on. Bryan will compete in three different Nationwide Tour Monday qualifiers – South Georgia Classic, Stadion Classic, and BMW Pro-Am - to try to earn a spot in the second-largest tour in the United States.

With the way he’s playing right now, he’s full of confidence in his abilities. Finishing near the top in the Hooters Tour events has given him that taste again of what it feels like to compete and contend.

“It was exciting to have a chance to win. It was good to finally be in contention for a tournament and getting nervous again. It’s good to have that feeling of playing close to the lead, even though it was a small tournament. It’s been a while and it was good that I got to have that feeling and apply it for future tournaments.”

Bryan’s professional career, just like his round at Cobblestone Park, is starting to heat up.

Closing strong

The run of birdies was remarkable to watch, especially for the commoner riding in the same cart. Each hole was basically the same with Bryan going driver or three wood off the tee into the fairway, iron to the green and a one-putt. He was making the game look simple. Real simple.

After a pair of pars, it was time to post more red numbers. His high draw on the par three 17th nestled about eight feet from the hole and his downhill slider was center cut. It was now an eight birdie round with the par five, 570-yard, split fairway 18th still to be played.

Tee standing high, Bryan saw his drive soar 330 yards down the middle of the upper-tier of the fairway. As he pulled out the distance-finding binoculars, he says to himself, “240 downhill to the flag. Three iron.” Off the club, we both knew it was a perfect shot. He had a kick-in eagle to finish his round at 63.

The Hooters Carolina Summer Series isn’t exactly the crème-de-la-crème of professional golf but it is a start. Perhaps, some would argue, shooting 63 on a course played so many times is nothing to write home about for a guy with aspirations of playing with the big boys. But right now, Bryan is content with where his golf game is but he knows it has to continue to get better. It’s part of the process of making it to the big leagues, making it to the PGA Tour.

The PGA Tour is the goal, an attainable one, but there isn’t a timetable. While the hope is sooner rather than later, it can’t be forced. Nothing in golf can be forced. As Bryan says, that’s what leads to bogeys. Bogeys lead to cuts. Cuts lead to, well, something besides professional golf.

The handshake

As I tapped in for my bogey and 95, Bryan had overcome the 27.5 stroke advantage he gave me. I went in thinking that I could shoot 90 and he would shoot 65 and I would be able to boast, no matter how skewed, over my accomplishments of beating a professional golfer. It, obviously, didn’t work out that way.

But in typical time-honored tradition, we both removed our hats and shook hands as we left the green. My day was done and it was time to get to work. Spring football, my job, beckoned. His job was still calling him as well. It was time for 18 more holes with the little brother.

As GB4 said, he’s playing the best golf of his career. Just a few minutes after his 63, he turned around and hit the links again but he did four better shooting a 59. Yes, a 13-under 59.

That’s tour quality. It’s better than Hooters Carolina Series quality. It’s PGA Tour quality. Bryan just has to continue to be patient and continue on the path he’s on.

“The PGA Tour is where I want to be but I don’t know how long it will take to get there. I know if I keep working on my game and keep getting better, it’s inevitable I will be there. I’ll keep working on my game and the rest will take care of itself.”

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