British Open 2019: Good things can come to those who wait (to turn pro). Ask Brandon Wu
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If there was ever a time for Brandon Wu to second-guess his decision to take the road less traveled, it came last Sunday. That’s when Wu watched the end of the 3M Open outside Minneapolis and saw Matthew Wolff make an eagle putt on the 72nd hole to win in his third career PGA Tour start as a pro.
Just six weeks earlier, the two were concluding All-American college seasons at the NCAA Championship in Arkansas, Wu helping Stanford win the team title at Blessings Golf Club and Wolff taking individual honors in his final start for Oklahoma State. Now Wolff was a millionaire, and Wu had reason to wonder if the romantic notion of waiting to turn pro until after the summer in hopes of playing for the U.S. Walker Cup team was worth it.
Not helping matters was that two other contemporaries of Wu’s, Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa, who followed Wolff to the pros, have been appearing regularly on PGA Tour leader boards as well.
“Obviously, it’s interesting watching them cash their checks,” Wu says, wearing a wry smile, “but honestly that doesn’t mean much to me. I still have some cool stuff I can do as an amateur. I like how things are turning out.”
There’s reason for him to be. Since the end of his college season, the 22-year-old from Scarsdale, N.Y., has had success of his own. He qualified for the U.S. Open, made the cut at Pebble Beach and finished T-35 (as a bonus, USGA officials arranged for him to receive his Stanford diploma behind the 18th green since playing the final round meant missing his college graduation ceremony). Then two weeks ago he flew to Scotland and earned a spot into the Open Championship at Royal Portrush, something Wolff, Hovland and Morikawa likely will be watching from afar.
The combination of these results have elevated Wu to No. 5 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and essentially locked up his spot on the Walker Cup team that will play in September at Royal Liverpool.
“It’s hard to describe what it’s been like the last few months: NCAAs, Pebble Beach, now playing in the British Open,” Wu says. “It’s just really special.”
To get to where Wu is going, he did what any good Stanford graduate would do: He put his degree to work. Wu majored in product design through the school’s engineering department. “The idea is they teach you how to creatively solve problems,” says Wu, who, among his school projects, worked with the maker of the Radio Flyer kids’ wagon to study the future of outdoor play. “We’d pick a topic and interview people. 'Need/find' is the way they call it.”
So Wu picked a handful of young golfers who had faced similar situations to his and “need/found" his career path. What’s the best option for him: pro golf or amateur golf?
Among those he spoke with was his former Stanford teammate Maverick McNealy, who graduated two years earlier and had played on two Walker Cup teams before he turned professional. McNealy had delayed turning pro in the summer of 2017 to play the second time at Los Angeles Country Club.
“He said basically it was just a fantastic experience to play for your country,” Wu says. “And it is rare—it only comes every two years. Pro golf is going to be there.”
It was a message echoed by others. And so when Wu weighed staying amateur versus turning pro (he intended to try to play the Canadian Tour), he chose the former.
As part of his plan, Wu knew he would give qualifying for the U.S. Open a shot. But he also put a different objective on his schedule in the early spring: head to Scotland and attempt to get one of 12 spots available into the British Open via the R&A’s Final Qualifying. It’s rare for Americans to try this avenue, given the expense of flying overseas and the long odds of earning a spot, but the idea intrigued Wu.
“My college coach, Conrad Ray, just said, ‘36 holes to try to play in the British Open. Why not?’ ” Wu says.
Wu flew over five days early and made it a working vacation, playing the Old Course, Muirfield and North Berwick before competing at the Fairmont St. Andrews, where three spots were available for the 72-player field. With rounds of 64-67, he earned medalist honors. He also became the first amateur since Ireland’s Joe Carr in 1967 to successfully qualify for both Opens in the same calendar year.
Rather than stay in the U.K., Wu returned to the United States and visited Pinehurst Resort, getting a look at the No. 2 and No. 4 courses he’ll play next month when he competes in the 119th U.S. Amateur. Wu is scheduled to fly back to the U.K. on Thursday night ahead of the Open, returning to Scotland for another visit to Muirfield and North Berwick before playing Royal County Down on Sunday and then finally getting to Portrush.
Having qualified for the British Open, Wu will miss two of the bigger amateur events back in the U.S., the Porter Cup, which he won in 2017, and the Western Amateur. He’ll compete for the U.S. in the Pan-American Games in Peru the week before the U.S. Amateur, taking a red-eye on Sunday night to North Carolina and teeing it up in stroke-play qualifying without the benefit of practice rounds. “That's why it was good to see the courses this week,” Wu says.
After the Walker Cup, he’ll join Wolff, Hovland and Morikawa in turning pro, with the potential of getting some sponsor exemptions into one or more of the PGA Tour’s fall events. He’ll also enter Qualifying School to try to earn status on the Korn Ferry Tour.
But first things first.
“I’m just trying to enjoy all of this,” Wu says. “I made my decision, but part of it was not just to play and hopefully make the Walker Cup team, but to have some fun doing it. And I have. I’m really excited about everything the next few months, but I want to make sure I soak it all up.”
Indeed, Wu isn’t thinking about the cash he might be missing out on. There are some experiences that money can’t buy.