Jeff Shain

Homegrown champion finds plenty of family, friends waiting to celebrate win

It had to be the biggest welcome party to await an RBC Heritage champion as he signed his winning scorecard.

Wesley Bryan also may own the new title of worst haberdashery ever to match with a tartan jacket. But more on that later.

Behind the scoring trailer, eight or nine people got the green light from security to join the caddies, media and fellow players. Then a couple more. And a few more.

When Bryan finally exited, he walked into a small sea of humanity. Hugs all around, with the longest saved for his wife Elizabeth.

If this is the reception a South Carolina winner receives at Harbour Town, let’s not wait another 49 years for the next one. It was loud and it was joyous.

By the time Bryan slipped into that tartan jacket on the 18th green – a 42 long, I’m told – no fewer than 16 family members and friends had clustered in front of the grandstand. Others were still in the seating area. At least one had blended in with the professional photographers, snapping away.

“I haven’t seen this many people watch him play, ever,” said Mary Chandler Bryan, the new champion’s sister.

“Family, friends, just people in the community that know of us or know my dad. For them to make this drive to come watch, that’s pretty special. The love has been unbelievable for the last week.”

Bryan, a Columbia native, erased a four-shot deficit with a 4-under-par 67 that matched Sunday’s second-best round. On a sun-splashed day when no one else seemed capable of closing the deal, the Heritage rookie did just that.

Four consecutive birdies on the front side suddenly thrust him in contention. A bogey stopped that train, but he didn’t make another over his final 10 holes.

Not only was Bryan’s round beaten by only one man (Matt Kuchar from the early groups), he was the only player in the final three pairings to shoot better than 73. Third-round leader Jason Dufner didn’t make a birdie after No.2, Webb Simpson after No.4, Kevin Kisner after No.5.

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PGA Tour rookie Ollie Schneiderjans shot up the board, but watched a birdie putt slide by at No.15 and bogeyed the 17th. Luke Donald made a push with three birdies after the turn, but needed one more in the final hour.

It all fell to Bryan, who kept himself largely out of trouble and didn’t much call attention to himself except for that pink-and-blue ensemble he picked to wear Sunday.

“He’s been playing very close to this level for a while,” said his father, George Bryan III. “It was just the right course, right time. God lines it up, and bam. I had a good feeling from the first swing of the day.”

So did other family members.

“It made me feel better than he was coming from behind instead of sitting on a little lead,” said Mary Chandler, a former College of Charleston golfer who once qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

“Not that our hopes weren’t extremely up, but I just felt like him fighting his way up was the better place to be.”

The vibes have been good for the Bryan family all week. Between parents, siblings, in-laws and whoever else, they filled three rentals at Sea Pines.

“Having support out there was obviously great,” Bryan said. “When I hit the bad shots, there was always encouragement. After I made bogey – ‘Hey, you can do it. Keep your head up.’ That’s really cool.

“And then when you hit a good shot, you get a little louder roar than the rest of the guys.”

About the only downside was making sure everyone could get out on the course.

“We had a little bit of trouble with tickets,” said Bryan’s wife, Elizabeth. “We kind of had to divvy it up – we can give you tickets this day and not this day. But all our best friends were here Friday and Saturday. Some came Thursday. And all our family stayed through the weekend.”

And with good reason. Golf is part of the Bryans’ DNA. George spent a brief time on the PGA Tour and has since established a golf and sports fitness academy in Chapin. George IV, Wesley’s brother, held USC’s top career scoring average until a year ago.

George IV and Wesley competed together on Golf Channel’s old “Big Break” series before starting their series of trick-shot videos.

Mary Chandler noted the family used to come to Hilton Head on pretty much an annual basis, though that changed a number of years ago.

Sunday was a good time to be back. And now it’ll be a regular occurrence.

Two weeks ago, Elizabeth noted, she wasn’t sure about whether to get in early on another rental for next year’s RBC Heritage.

“He said, ‘Listen, I’m playing every year, OK?’ ” she recalled.

He made it happen Sunday, adding his first PGA Tour victory to the three he recorded on the Tour a year ago.

Now about that pink-and-blue combo. It’s actually a carryover from his breakout year on the developmental circuit.

“He won the first time in Louisiana last year wearing blue pants and a hot pink shirt,” Elizabeth explained. “He switched up midyear to pink pants and a blue shirt and stayed with it. So that’s always his Sunday outfit.”

It works, though it doesn’t work. Not that it matters to the new champion.

“I’m still going to be cheesing ear to ear,” he said.

Jeff Shain: 843-706-8123, @jeffshain