PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Stories like Ryan Brehm’s are the reason we watch the sport.
He’s as good a reason to watch this week’s Players Championship as the best players in the world are on the pitch.
Brehm, a 35-year-old journeyman golfer, struck gold last week in Puerto Rico. In one week, four rounds of golf changed his life.
Brehm entered the Puerto Rico Open, playing on a minor one-tournament medical extension, needing to win the tournament or finish alone second to maintain his status on the PGA Tour. With his wife Chelsey as his caddy, he won the tournament by six strokes after completing five of the first 11 holes.
The win was a Hail Mary for Brehm, who was ranked No. 773 in the world. The tournament felt like a week-long version of the PGA Tour Qualifying School with only one player surviving and progressing.
Brehm, who took a three-shot lead in the final round, survived and advanced – straight to TPC Sawgrass for this week’s Players Championship, where he will play alongside the best players in the world in the strongest field of the game. golf.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” Brehm said Wednesday morning, sitting in a chair on the lawn behind the 18th green at Sawgrass. “It’s hard to put into words.”
He was granted a tournament extension after having to withdraw from the Zurich Classic last year due to COVID-19. Few have taken the opportunity like him.
How did he compose his game so nicely with all that pressure?
“Well, I’m 35, I’ve been playing for a very long time and I have enough experience to understand that you really have to have the mental discipline to focus on the task at hand,” Brehm said. “But sometimes that’s not enough.”
It was Sunday.
What would he be doing this week if it hadn’t been for this victory?
“This week we would be in Fort Myers picking up our truck and leaving Friday to go to Lafayette, Louisiana from Fort Myers,” he said.
Lafayette is the next stop on the Korn Ferry Tour, where Brehm has struggled, trying to play well enough to regain his status on the PGA Tour.
Asked about his stress level this week compared to last week, Brehm replied, “Well, the stress level is much lower, the excitement level is much higher.”
He recalled trying not to watch the leaderboards in the final round on Sunday until he reached No. 15.
“At that time I looked after the 15th par 5 and I saw it, I think it was seven strokes,” he said. “You always do the math. You still have so much time to think about what can go wrong.
Still, Brehm said he had a sense of calm all week in Puerto Rico.
“It felt like there was no pressure because it was win or go home,” he said. “And we had already resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going to play a full season on the Korn Ferry regardless.”
What will his nerves look like for Thursday’s first round at Sawgrass?
“That’s a great question,” he said. “I don’t know if I can answer that now. Guess I’ll be shaking like a leaf at the first hole. It’s the biggest stage. I played golf [Tuesday] and the level of difficulty is as high as I have ever seen.
“So there are going to be a lot of different curveballs thrown at me this week. And you never know how you’re going to handle that.
If he channels what he did in Puerto Rico, Brehm will be fine.
Last week’s win changed his life, giving him that precious PGA Tour card through 2024. Now it’s up to him to keep it.
“I know enough to know that these 2 ¹/₂ years are going to pass quickly and I have to use that to catapult myself and not let myself get complacent,” he said. “I have my card. This is the third time I’ve picked up the card. The first two times, I wasn’t even close to keeping it.
“I think I’ve learned some things about what I need to do tactically to be successful [this time]. I need to avoid three-putts as much, keep my driver and play better and deal with the emotions and the pressure of trying to hold the card better.
“I think this win last week is going to make it a bit easier for me, but those thoughts and those emotions will always be there.”