IN his first year of playing golf at the University of Georgia in the United States, Victorian Bryden Macpherson won the 2010 SEC Freshman of the Year award.
His potential was evident and the results spoke for themselves - Macpherson winning the award as one of the country's top first year collegiate players despite only playing half the season.
Then playing as Australia's number one ranked player at the Eisenhower Trophy, a world amateur team golf championship, things came unstuck.
“I essentially fell flat on my face and completely buckled,” Macpherson tells Golf Link.
“It wasn’t necessarily because of pressure or anything, I just really didn’t have my game.”
Four months later, his position in Golf Australia’s national squad (a select group of talented young players who are financially supported by the country's governing body) was rescinded.
“That was quite embarrassing,” says Macpherson.
“I didn’t feel like I was doing that much wrong and I was quite angry to be honest.
“I went to a pretty bad place with my golf and I didn’t know how to get out of where I was.”
His Georgia Bulldogs qualified for the NCAA Championships national final, but as soon as things had turned for the better for Macpherson, they again turned for the worse.
Coach Chris Haack and Assistant Coach Jim Douglas had seen enough.
“I shot 81 or 82 in the first round and we went to the range. I was like ‘You guys have got to help me, I need to fix this’,” says Macpherson.
“Just before I hit every shot, Douglas told me that I needed to say ‘Screw it!’ and then just hit it.
“He used a different word than ‘screw’, but that might not be suitable for an article,” laughs Macpherson.
The next day, Macpherson shot 1-under par and kept his school in the tournament as they were eventually named runners-up.
Macpherson carried the ‘screw it’ attitude into the following week’s British Amateur Championship.
“I went and won the British Am the next week,” says Macpherson.
“In four weeks, I went from all but committing to stay at UGA the whole time so I could get a degree and get a job, to winning the British Amateur.
“I was like a kid thrown in the deep end.”
Bryden Macpherson has golf in his genes.
One grandfather, living in New Zealand, introduced him to the game at the age of 10 during the frequent family holidays across the ditch.
Macpherson’s other grandfather paved the way as a “gun” Victorian amateur himself in the 50s and 60s.
“He won like seven club championships as the number one at Woodlands [Golf Club],” recounts Macpherson.
“But my parents were always really big on letting me and my sister choose what we wanted to do.”
“At 11 or 12 I started playing the Saturday comps at Devilbend Golf Club and I still remember the first one,” says Macpherson.
“I still remember being nervous when I heard them call my name out over the PA system.
“Little did I know I’d be hearing that from some pretty amazing people in my life.”
Saturdays spent at the golf club became Sundays too. Then one afternoon a week. Then every afternoon.
“I was going through school but I was playing every day, I was well and truly addicted,” says Macpherson.
But he wasn’t skipping class to work on his swing.
“My parents are both academics, so that wasn’t on,” laughs Macpherson.
He joined forces with coach Denis McDade at the Melbourne Golf Academy, rocking up on the first day in track pants and a t-shirt “talking about how I wanted to be a top-10 golfer in the world”.
McDade scoffed, but not to his face.
“I used to hate winter because there was no daylight savings," he says.
“I could only practise for like an hour and a half.”
Macpherson graduated from high school at the end of 2008 and consciously wanted to avoid a college stint in America.
The then 18-year-old won the coveted Dunes Medal that year, setting a course record, and then breaking his own new mark in the process.
He also won the national Amateur Stroke Play tournaments on both sides of the Tasman.
“I said ‘no’ to start with, just because I’d heard horror stories about guys going to college and getting swallowed up,” says Macpherson.
After speaking to UGA's long-time head coach Chris Haack, Macpherson was convinced.
“Chris reckons there’s no one in the world who knows golfers 16-25 better than him,” laughs Macpherson.
“He’s seen what works and what doesn’t. I didn’t listen to him enough in college, but I sure as hell listen to him now!”
The British Amateur victory earned the Victorian a place in the 2011 Open Championship and a trip to Augusta National Golf Club the following April.
The optimistic Macpherson drew only positives from his maiden major experience at Royal St George’s, carding rounds of 71 and 73.
“I went and played the British Open and played really well, I just fell in a heap on the last two holes,” says Macpherson.
“I went bogey, bogey and missed the cut by a shot.”
Not discouraged, Macpherson returned to college for the second half of the year, before a loss of form emerged and another tough decision presented itself.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” says Macpherson.
“I can remember thinking, ‘If I’m going to have any shot playing half-decent at the Masters, I’ve got to go home’.”
“It was terrible having to leave UGA, because they’d become like family to me. I’m still very much a Bulldog which I’m very proud of.”
With his school just over an hour away from Augusta National, Macpherson had played the course more than a dozen times previously.
“They say there’s a couple of things you have got to get over to play well at the Masters,” says Macpherson.
“First, you’ve got to get over the fact that you’re playing Augusta National.
“And then you’ve got to get over the fact you’re playing in the Masters.
“And then somehow in there you’ve got to play well!”
Macpherson lived out every golfer’s dream and left with no regrets, only good memories.
“I played quite well, I just couldn’t putt. It was the greens, I let the greens get to me,” says Macpherson.
Rounds of 77 and 76 meant Macpherson missed the cut.
With the biggest tournament of his life behind him, the then 21-year-old had the biggest decision of his career ahead of him – whether to enter the world of professionalism.
“It was a tough decision because I was the first British Amateur champ to be exempt into the US Open,” says Macpherson.
On the other hand, he had PGA Tour invites at the Byron Nelson Championship, Memorial Tournament and Travelers Championship - a great opportunity to fill the bank account.
He took the risk and turned pro.
“I look at it and just think that I didn’t have the game," recounts Macpherson.
“I had the mindset, had the competitiveness and had the belief in myself. I just couldn’t hit the shots I wanted to.”
Macpherson missed all three cuts by one, one and two strokes respectively.
“If I had it again, I probably would’ve stayed amateur and played the US Open,” says Macpherson.
“But if I’d played well at the Travelers, Memorial and Byron Nelson and gotten my PGA Tour card, I would’ve said ‘Yeah, that was a great decision!’.”
Much of early 2013 was spent at Monday qualifiers on America’s secondary circuit, playing seven and graduating through just one.
“I missed two in a playoff, I missed two by a shot and I missed two by two shots. I think the worst score I shot was 4-under," says Macpherson.
He attended the Web.com Tour’s Q-School at the end of the year which ended in him phoning home and booking a flight back to Victoria.
“I completely tanked,” says Macpherson.
“You might be noticing a trend here, when I just lose my game!”
“I remember calling my Dad after, just speechless. So I pulled the pin on America.”
Consulting with his coach Denis, ‘who hadn’t ever steered me wrong’, Macpherson returned home.
Macpherson flew to the 2013 Australian PGA Championship qualifier with the last of his frequent flyer points and used 500 of his last 1000 dollars for his hotel room.
He missed out again.
“You’ll just have to get a job now,” his Mum told him.
“Then I thought ‘The dream might be over’,” says Macpherson.
“Which was fine with me. Golf was what I did, it wasn’t who I was.”
Then Macpherson’s luck turned.
The Australian Masters qualifier was held at the club he joined in his mid-teens, Peninsula Country Golf Club.
He won, made the cut in the Masters at Royal Melbourne, finished in the top 30 there and pocketed $6500.
He was rewarded with a sponsor’s exemption into the 2013 Australian Open at Royal Sydney and finished in a tie for fourth.
“I’d made $2700 that year. In three weeks I made $65,000,” says Macpherson.
“That’s just golf for you.”
In the process Macpherson secured PGA Tour of Australasia and OneAsia Tour cards for 2014.
“We also got an email from the guys at PGA of Australia saying ‘there’s this new tour starting up, its kind of short notice, but go to Q-School’,” he says.
The PGA Tour China had been taken over and revamped by the PGA Tour for 2014 and Macpherson breezed through Q-School to, suddenly, give himself yet another option.
Thanks to his finish at the Australian Open the previous summer, the biggest prize of all for Macpherson was a ticket to the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
But it wasn’t pretty.
“By the way, I’m not ashamed to talk about this,” warns Macpherson.
“People try to tread around the subject, but they don’t need to.”
While playing for money in a practice round with a friend from his college days, Jordan Spieth, Macpherson was positive about his own form.
The then 23-year-old battled to rounds of 90 and 80.
“When it was going on, I was just trying to figure out some way to get the ball to go where I wanted it to,” says Macpherson.
“The fairway looked smaller than the golf ball. So did the club head.”
He fronted the media after his first round to reassure people he’d be OK, before indicating to Denis that perhaps they should go to the range.
“I’d go through that whole experience again, all those eyes and everyone looking at me and the embarrassment. I’d do it all again just for the lesson I learnt,” says Macpherson.
“I realised I needed to take ownership of my game. I’d been outsourcing everything.”
Macpherson returned to the PGA Tour China for five events in 2014 and finished in the top 10 on all five occasions.
A ninth placed finish on the tour’s Order of Merit earned him status on the Web.com Tour for 2015.
“I learnt how to deal with things and learnt how to ‘accept’ the bad,” says Macpherson.
“That’s a very powerful tool as a professional golfer.”
The step up to the Web.com Tour at the start of this year didn’t draw the same high finishes, but Macpherson “was making enough money to get by”.
He made six of the last seven cuts on the Tour to finish the season strongly (missing the seventh by just one shot), but didn't qualify for the season-ending Finals series and lost his card.
“I was getting in contention without playing super well,” says Macpherson.
“Denis said ‘It would’ve been awesome if there were a couple of more events’.
“I said ‘Well, there’s still that China tour going on’.”
He couldn’t get there quick enough.
A T13 return at the 2015 Pingan Bank Open in September was a positive return, before Macpherson played some of the best golf of his life.
He won the Cadillac Championship in Beijing by three shots for the first professional win of his career, backing that up the following week with a T3 finish at the Yulongwan Yunnan Open.
Macpherson won the next event, the Lushan Open, with four straight rounds of 2-under 68.
Seven days later the Victorian was outright second at the Chongqing Jiangnan NewTown KingRun Open.
Macpherson totalled 51-under for 16 rounds and amassed nearly $AU140,000 for four weeks’ work.
“I didn’t get in my own way,” says Macpherson.
“You’ve got to be your own encourager, not your own slave driver.”
“I was aggressive and I didn’t back off. I started hitting 5-irons at flags.”
Macpherson returned home for a five-week break suddenly sitting second on the Order of Merit, but with a fair gap between he and New Zealander Josh Geary.
The Order of Merit winner gains full status on the Web.com Tour for the upcoming season, with the top 5 guaranteed a card anyway.
Not letting up, Macpherson forfeited a spot in last month's Australian Masters field to play the Nine Dragons Open. He finished T5 and closed the gap on Geary.
The next week Macpherson fought back on Sunday of the Hainan Open with a final round 3-under 69 to share third place.
He took the lead on the PGA Tour China's money list by just over $AU3,000.
With Geary heading to the Gold Coast for the Australian PGA Championship - finishing in a tie for 21st - Macpherson played the PGA Tour China's season-ending event knowing his 2016 season will be spent back in the United States on the Web.com Tour.
The boy from Melbourne with golf in his genes has learnt more than most his age on golf courses around the world and has taken those lessons with him.
“You can talk about how things line up and can happen for a reason,” says Macpherson.
“Matt Jones bogied three of his last four holes at that 2014 Aussie Open to give me the spot in the Open Championship, but he ended up winning on the PGA Tour in Houston the next year and getting in anyway.”
“It’s hard to look back on someone’s golf career and not believe in some kind of coincidence or fortune.”
The way he’s playing at the moment, Macpherson won’t be relying on fortune any time soon.
And if something else unlucky happens on his journey to the PGA Tour – ‘Screw it!’.
Photo: Joey Ratcliffe
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