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Bryan feeling right at home at Masters despite 5-week layoff

April 2, 2018

Wesley Bryan watches his tee shot on the seventh hole during practice for the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, Monday, April 2, 2018, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Wesley Bryan believes the golf ball is somewhere in his house a few miles from Augusta National.

It’s probably in a cabinet or a closet. It still might even have Billy Andrade’s pencil markings on it. The Former PGA Tour regular flipped the ball to Bryan a little more than two decades ago during the Masters. Bryan was attending the event with his dad and standing behind the No. 8 tee when Andrade singled him out.

It one of Bryan’s first and fondest memories of the hallowed grounds.

“It went into the ‘my cool stuff drawer,‘” Bryan said Monday. “Stuff that went into the ‘cool stuff drawer’ seemed to disappear over time when I moved a couple times and I first got married, so I’m not sure exactly what ended up happening to that golf ball. But I bet it’s somewhere. If I looked really hard, I could find it.”

If not, he should be able to able to replace it this week with better memories from golf’s first major of the year.

The 28-year-old Bryan will make his Masters debut a year after his first tour victory, at the RBC Heritage in his home state of South Carolina.

How did the former trick-shot artist prepare for it? Partly by watching YouTube videos, naturally.

“Going back and seeing how guys play the course on Sunday,” he said.

Bryan also took a five-week break from the tour schedule to grind out practice rounds in Augusta.

He played about a dozen times at Augusta National — shooting under par each time — with local caddies sharing their knowledge of the course’s ultra-slippery greens. He also played nearby at Forest Hills and Bartram Trail, where he lipped-out a putt for a 59 at the final hole three weeks ago.

“I’ve never been one to play my way into form,” Bryan said. “I’m one of those guys, I kind of know what I got to do to get better and I don’t need tournament golf to round me into form. So I’ve been working really hard these last five weeks. It’s definitely not been a vacation by any stretch. Probably worked harder than I’ve ever worked in my entire life to get ready for this one event.”

Some of his best golf followed lengthy layoffs. He won for the first time on the Web.com tour in 2016 after a five-week hiatus and was victorious at the Heritage after a two-week break.

He’s hoping the latest reprieve will lead to better results than he experienced during nine events between October 2017 and February 2018. Bryan missed the cut the last three times out and finished no higher than a tie for 27th.

“It’s been nice living just a few miles down the road and being able to get over here and play a few practice rounds and get a little more comfortable on the golf course and learn all the little nuances,” he said.

Bryan has gained so much confidence lately that he even started having some fun during practice rounds at Augusta.

The guy who turned trick shots into paychecks a few years ago with the help of his older brother, recreated some of the Masters’ most memorable winning shots.

He tried Mark O’Meara’s 18-footer at No. 18 in 1998. He lined up Phil Mickelson’s 20-footer at the final hole in 2004, a putt that gave Lefty his first major championship. He got as close as possible to attempting Tiger Woods’ improbable chip shot for birdie at 16 in 2005 that helped him get into a playoff (and eventually beat) Chris DeMarco. He even walked down to the spot (340-plus yards off the tee) on the par-4 10th where Bubba Watson purposely snap-hooked his second shot from the trees and landed it on the green to beat Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff in 2012.

“That’s hopefully not a place that I’ll be,” Bryan said. “I don’t think I can even get it down there even if I wanted to.”

Where he wants to be is in contention Sunday. It’s a lofty goal for anyone in his first Masters and especially for someone who hasn’t played his best in 2018. But given his familiarity with the course and being at home, Bryan feels like he has a chance to come away with a souvenir much better than Andrade’s golf ball.

“It’s not like going into the tournament I’m one of the front-runners to win,” said Bryan, a 400-1 long shot. “I might be one of the local guys, but I’ve kind of got the chip on my shoulder a little bit seeing some of the odds to win. I would like to think, personally, that I have a little better odds than that.”

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