Player Spotlights: Bryan, DeChambeau, Murray, Points and Smith
Just one year removed from playing the Web.com Tour, a host of recent PGA TOUR winners – Wesley Bryan, Bryson DeChambeau, Grayson Murray, Cam Smith, and D.A. Points – earned the right to kick off the 2018 calendar in Maui with a spot in the winners-only field at the Sentry Tournament of Champions which will be held Jan. 3-7, 2018.
This installment of the Countdown to Kapalua looks back on a remarkable 2017 for Bryan, DeChambeau, Murray, Smith, and Points.
Wesley Bryan (RBC Heritage) – First Appearance
As a 14-year-old at the 2004 RBC Heritage, Bryan was just a kid in the crowd, asking every PGA TOUR player he saw as many crazy questions as he could about how to get to where they stood. Thirteen years later Bryan joined them inside the ropes and went on to win the RBC Heritage in his home state of South Carolina with his family all looking on.
“This is as good as it gets,” Bryan said after his first win. “It’s one that I grew up dreaming on the practice green late at night when I was a kid, like this putt is to win the Heritage. And to get it done here is one of the coolest experiences ever.”
Bryan, the 2016 Web.com Tour Player of the Year, followed up three victories on the Web.com Tour a year prior with a win in his rookie season on the PGA TOUR, defeating Luke Donald by one shot for his first TOUR victory. The win earned Bryan a trip to the Sentry Tournament of Champions and a two-year exemption on the PGA TOUR.
“Will Farrell said it best, ‘That escalated quickly,’” he said following his victory at Harbour Town. “Honestly I’ve got no idea. It’s still kind of surreal. Maybe one day I’ll wake up and kind of realize what’s gone on the last, I don’t know, 15 months or so.”
Bryson DeChambeau (John Deere Classic) – First Appearance
Less than one year removed from securing his PGA TOUR card with a victory at the Web.com Tour’s DAP Championship, DeChambeau validated an approach unlike any other on the PGA TOUR. The 23-year-old relied on his knowledge of physics and a unique single-length golf set to show that there’s more than one way to win on the PGA TOUR. It’s not all too different than the way his golfing idol, Payne Stewart, stood out from the crowd, so it was fitting that DeChambeau secured his first PGA TOUR victory by burying a birdie on the 72nd hole at the very tournament, the John Deere Classic, where Stewart posted his first win.
“It feels like it’s been a long time coming, even though I’m 23,” said DeChambeau after the win. “It’s pretty special to win here at the John Deere. Didn’t know Payne Stewart’s first win was here, and that broke me. God bless him. He’s done some amazing things for the game of golf, and I hope I can do something similar down the road.”
In turn, DeChambeau will make his first trip to Maui for the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he’ll have to put his scientific methods towards trying to determine how to navigate the challenging greens of the Plantation Course at Kapalua.
Grayson Murray (Barbasol Championship) – First Appearance
One year after winning the Web.com Tour Finals money list, Grayson Murray posted his first career victory as a rookie with a one-shot win over Chad Collins at the Barbasol Championship. The 24-year-old Raleigh, N.C. native climbed into contention with back-to-back 64s in the second and third round and held on for the victory with a 3-under 68 in the final round to secure a two-year exemption on the PGA TOUR.
“It takes a lot of pressure off you knowing that you have two years, you can plan out your schedule,” Murray said. “I played so much this year, probably too much, so I know which courses I like and fit my eye. So for the next two years we’ll be able to plan out a schedule going forward and hopefully set myself up for quality tournaments instead of quantity.”
Cam Smith (Zurich Classic of New Orleans) – First Appearance
After Kevin Kisner chipped in from 95 feet for eagle to force a playoff at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Cam Smith and Jonas Blixt returned on Monday morning and somehow regained the momentum, securing the victory with a birdie on the fourth playoff hole. In the new team format event, it was Smith that ultimately won it for his team, hitting a 58-yard wedge to three feet for the birdie and his first career PGA TOUR victory.
One year after having to return to the Web.com Tour to regain his PGA TOUR card, the young Aussie will head to Maui as a PGA TOUR winner ready for his first start in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
“I’ve been playing well for a while now the last few months and everything needed to come together to get a relaxed week I think with Jonas,” said Smith after the win. “Really freed me up and freed Jonas up, as well, I think. Yeah, and we both played out of our skin. It was really good.”
D.A. Points (Puerto Rico Classic) – Third Appearance (Best Finish: T12, 2012)
D.A. Points earned his second trip to the Sentry Tournament of Champions with a win at the 2013 Shell Houston. Instead of sticking with the methods that had won him two PGA TOUR events in three years, Points went back to the drawing board, hoping to improve on the game that had just taken him to Atlanta for the TOUR Championship.
Instead, the changes took him back to the Web.com Tour, where Points had to grind in the Web.com Tour Finals to regain his PGA TOUR card. After securing his TOUR card, Points took advantage and earned his third career victory with a two-shot win at the Puerto Rico Open to earn a third trip to Maui for the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
“Well, in 2013 I had a really great year and tried to — I tried to improve on that instead of just playing with my game that I had. It actually was a big step in the wrong direction and I ended up losing my card for the ’15 season and then — or for ’16. Last year I played out of past champion category and I got my card back through the Web Finals,” said Points after his win. “I was just really proud of myself for finding some way, hitting about as low as I’ve ever been golf-wise and finding my way out, and then to be able to hang in there and win today is something that I wasn’t sure if I had in me and I’m really proud of myself.”
The Sentry Tournament of Champions returns to The Plantation Course at Kapalua from January 3-7, 2018. In total, 37 players have qualified for the Sentry Tournament of Champions via their PGA TOUR victories during the 2017 calendar year, including 14 first-timers.
The winners-only tournament will celebrate its 20th year on Maui along with a new chapter in the tournament’s history with Sentry Insurance as the new title sponsor. The event offers a variety of opportunities to get involved and up close with some of the game’s biggest stars that have qualified for the event, such as defending champion and reigning FedExCup champion Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama.
A variety of ticket packages are now on sale, including good-any-one-day tickets, daily tickets and weekly tickets. Clubhouse packages are also still available, both in weekly and daily tickets. Tickets are available here or via Ticketmaster. Fans are reminded that each year, youth 18 and younger are admitted free of charge to the tournament when accompanied by a ticketed adult.