David Lauderdale

This Clemson legend (not named Dabo) rises from the sweet sod of the SC Lowcountry

Clemson’s Bryson Nimmer talks NCAA golf championship

The senior is leading the Tigers into the championship in Arkansas
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The senior is leading the Tigers into the championship in Arkansas

It’s a long way from “The Sarge” to The Blessings, a rolling golf course in Arkansas where the NCAA championship is being fought for this weekend.

But Bluffton’s Bryson Nimmer has made it there, standing at the pinnacle of a hall-of-fame career at Clemson University.

Already in his pocket are at least 27 school records, ACC Player of the Year honors, four-time All-ACC team member, a top-50 finish in a PGA Tour event, an unconditional card to play in the Mackenzie professional tour in Canada, an exemption to play in the Web.com tour’s BMW Charity Pro-Am June 6-7 in Greenville, a top-10 ranking in two lists of America’s top amateurs, and the most recent honor: he’s one of 10 finalists for the Fred Haskins Award that goes to America’s top collegiate golfer.

Nimmer has a degree in business management. And he has a scorecard with a 59 on it, from that day last summer he set the course record at The Reserve on Lake Keowee.

Now he has come to his swan song for the Clemson Tigers.

But it all started at “The Sarge.”

That’s what they call the Sergeant Jasper Country Club in Ridgeland, where his daddy, Tony Nimmer, first took him to play the game. It’s a 9-hole affair where you may find a lawn sprinkler on the green. It’s a course sculpted by hand from the soft earth by its founders, including Bryson’s grandfather, Freddie Nimmer.

But Bryson Nimmer joins a long list of golf champions and contributors to the game who have come from “The Sarge”: Pat Ducey, Tommy Ducey, Vic Lipscomb, Clark Lowther, Pete Malphrus, Bobby Miller, Gary Tate, Charles “Rat” Getsinger, Bob Jarrell, Ricky Cope, Mike Adams and Puggy Blackmon, who turned the Georgia Tech golf program into a national power before finishing his career at the University of South Carolina.

The Sarge is a symbol of the grit and pride of South Carolina’s Lowcountry people, who may show up to play in cowboy boots with one ball and 12 beers, but whatever you do, don’t bet against them.

Bryson’s career has been fashioned on the finest courses, with training from America’s best, at home in Bluffton and Hilton Head Island.

His success centers on his determination as a student at Hilton Head Christian Academy to lose 60 pounds and grind it out in the gym.

But that long trek from “The Sarge” to The Blessings really started with a longer walk back in 1880.

Family

Bryson Nimmer was born six weeks premature to Tony and Patsy Nimmer, sweethearts from their days at Thomas Heyward Academy in Ridgeland.

He weighed 5 pounds on the dot and joined brother Ty and sister Jordan, then 6 and 8, in their home by a big sod field on the outskirts of Ridgeland.

“He was like a little teddy bear,” Patsy said.

During his Clemson years, his parents have traveled the nation — going this year to Hawaii and Puerto Rico — to watch their son play.

But both parents say Bryson’s greatest supporter is himself.

“He’s always, always had a strong work ethic,” said Patsy, whose daddy, Wyman Rozier, worked the Lowcountry landscape for 40 years with Union Camp. She said Bryson worked so hard on golf that she had to force him to go to prom.

Clemson was his dream school.

Patsy and Tony both graduated from Clemson. She got her degree in nursing, followed in 2000 with a degree from Emory University in wound, ostomy and continence nursing. Tony Nimmer majored in business and lettered on Clemson’s golf team from 1980-83 and played on Clemson’s first NCAA Tournament team in 1980.

Asked whether Bryson ever considered leaving Clemson early to turn pro, Patsy said, “We told him right straight he was going to get that degree.”

Freddie Nimmer, his grandfather, got his Clemson degree in mechanical engineering in 1954. He ran the Chevrolet dealership in Ridgeland for 25 years, and married Joan Smith, whose father ran the Ford dealership.

Freddie’s father bought 100 acres near town, and that’s where Freddie would start Nimmer Turf Farm, now run by Tony and his brother, Bill. With 100 employees and 3,000 acres planted in four Lowcountry counties, it has grown from a field by the house where Bryson was a baby to one of the southeast’s largest suppliers of sod.

But that wasn’t the first big bet. Freddie’s grandfather came to the Lowcountry by boat, arriving in Charleston from Lebanon around 1880.

Working on the docks he heard about an inland town called Manning where farmers were doing well, and that’s where went, and opened a store and lived upstairs and eventually bought farmland.

“This is the part that will make you cry,” Freddie Nimmer said. “He WALKED from Charleston to Manning.”

JPGA and Sea Pines

Lowcountry ingredients will be flying around like okra when Bryson Nimmer pours his soul into The Blessings.

He was coached by Doug Langhals and Jason Suddeth at Hilton Head Christian Academy, where one of their teams won a state title by 30 strokes.

He’ll lean on the words of his swing coach since his senior year in high school, Tim Cooke, director of instruction at the Sea Pines Resort.

Cooke speaks of Nimmer’s technical strengths, but also his mindset. “He clearly loves the game, constantly wants to improve and grow, and accepts the ups and downs of the game,” says one of Golf Magazine’s top 100 teachers of the game.

Bryson will be leaning heavily, if you will, on Chris Tremblay, head coach and fitness professional at the Junior Players Golf Academy on Hilton Head.

He’s the one who told Nimmer as a 15-year-old sophomore that if he wanted to excel at a game he was good at, he’d have to lose weight and get in the gym.

“You need to get yourself a BMW engine,” Tremblay told him. “Right now, you’ve got a 25-year-old Ford pickup engine.”

Nimmer did it. He lost 60 pounds, and his game soared. He keeps it off with a high-protein diet and working out with Doug Weary at Berkeley Hall, where he lives.

His dad says the fitness program wasn’t part of the game when he was young. But he’s seen it enable Bryson’s drives to go from 250 yards in the air to 290.

The great transformation first came to light in the summer between Bryson’s junior and senior years in high school. He played a tournament at Haig Point on Daufuskie Island. In the second round, he shot a 64.

“That was the day it hit me,” Tremblay said. “He’s something special.

“He’s something special for a lot of reasons. But No. 1, it starts with family.”

Unlike many, Tremblay said, “His parents encouraged him, but they didn’t push him.”

Tony Nimmer knows it can be fun to hit thousands of golf balls, as Bryson does. But losing weight, keeping it off, and gaining strength, is no fun.

“That’s what Bryson did for himself, on his own,” said Tony.

Full circle to Arkansas

In Arkansas, Bryson will pump up on protein early before his rounds.

He’ll try to find a rhythm he can take to the course by listening to music — country, pop, rap, often Riley Green or Eric Church.

He’ll be comfortable, playing for head coach Larry Penley, who played at Clemson with his father, and has led the Tigers to 31 consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

Bryson will take what the pros call his “incredible mental game.” They say he will “stay in the moment,” which might keep his mind off playing for money next week in British Columbia, or dreams of the PGA Tour.

“I wouldn’t say it’s scary,” Nimmer said. “It’s a process. It’s time-consuming. You have to be able to focus at each level.”

He thanks his family for giving him this opportunity.

“You really have to trust everything you’re doing,” he said. “Tell yourself that if I do everything within my power to make the ball go in, whether it goes in or not doesn’t really matter, just move on to the next hole.”

Still, the journey from “The Sarge” to The Blessings warms the heart of family friend Cassi Kilpatrick.

Mike Adams, one of “The Sarge” graduates, is assistant women’s coach at the host school, the University of Arkansas.

“As my husband and I drive across the country to support his brother in coaching in the NCAA womens’ golf arena, I can’t help but reflect on the fact that two Ridgeland men whose backyards were connected by a Nimmer Turf sod field, aka a driving range, are performing on the NCAA stage across the country,” Kilpatrick said.

“Different generations, different roles, both starting in the backyard across from each other and spending their weekends at Sergeant Jasper Country Club.”

She followed up with this: “Mike’s number one player, Maria Fassi, just won the NCAA individual championship! So this story is getting better! Imagine if Bryson follows suit!”

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