PGA TOURLeaderboardWatch + ListenNewsFedExCupSchedulePlayersStatsGolfbetSignature EventsComcast Business TOUR TOP 10Aon Better DecisionsDP World Tour Eligibility RankingsHow It WorksPGA TOUR TrainingTicketsShopPGA TOURPGA TOUR ChampionsKorn Ferry TourPGA TOUR AmericasLPGA TOURDP World TourPGA TOUR University

The least likely man in the field at THE PLAYERS Championship

9 Min Read


The least likely man in the field at THE PLAYERS Championship

Ryan Brehm and family/friends still glowing after his wildly popular Puerto Rico moonshot

    Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin

    Ryan Brehm wins for the first time at Puerto Rico Open

    PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Joel Dahmen couldn’t sleep.

    His longtime friend Ryan Brehm – they met on PGA TOUR Canada in 2014 – was sleeping on a three-stroke lead into the final round of the Puerto Rico Open. Brehm was competing on the only start of a minor medical extension, attained via a COVID withdrawal from the 2021 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, in which Dahmen was his scheduled partner.

    Brehm needed a win to earn full PGA TOUR status, or a solo second for conditional status. He would otherwise return to the Korn Ferry Tour, where he’d already made four starts in 2022.

    “I had weird dreams about him,” Dahmen said. “I was awake tossing and turning, and I texted a buddy who is close with him, and I said that I felt like I was sleeping on the lead.”

    Chelsey Brehm couldn’t sleep.

    Brehm’s wife – and caddie for the week – was pondering the what-ifs. She had booked a full slate of flights and hotels anticipating a full season on the Korn Ferry Tour. With a victory Sunday, the year’s logistics would change dramatically in ways big and small.

    “It’s midnight, and I’m staring at the ceiling,” Chelsey said.

    Ryan Brehm slept soundly. He remained calm. He viewed the week as a free roll, a bonus. For the first time, he had entered a season with full status on either the PGA TOUR or Korn Ferry Tour – full Korn Ferry Tour status from winning the 2019 LECOM Health Challenge – after six consecutive seasons beginning in either a Q-School or reshuffle category.

    Aiming to become the first husband/wife, player/caddie duo to win on the PGA TOUR since Patrick and Justine Reed at the 2013 Wyndham Championship, the Brehms resolved to focus not on the life-changing stakes but a game they learned from friend and TOUR pro Henrik Norlander. They would divide the final round in Puerto Rico into a series of three-hole matches. If Brehm made a birdie on any of the three holes, he won the match. If not, Chelsey won.

    With birdies on 1, 5, 9 and 10, Brehm handled the game within the game. Same on the official leaderboard, as well. Brehm shot 67 for a 20-under total and six-stroke victory. Not only did he earn his first career PGA TOUR top-10 finish, at age 35, he won. And in convincing fashion.

    “It might sound like Bill Belichick or Nick Saban here, but honestly, wasn’t thinking about the impact of my status or anything this week,” Brehm said Sunday night. “Tomorrow, we’re going to going to get on a flight back to Florida and try to get in a practice round for THE PLAYERS.”

    My, how things have changed. Last month, Brehm was competing for a $750,000 purse at the Korn Ferry Tour’s LECOM Suncoast Classic. This week, he’s teeing it up in his first PLAYERS in a Thursday/Friday pairing with Jason Day and Kevin Kisner, vying for a $20 million purse at the iconic Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, one of the most famous courses in the world.

    How did this happen? How was Brehm able to put the stakes aside and channel his best golf in his only guaranteed opportunity this season to play his way back onto the PGA TOUR?

    “His ability to properly put it into context,” said Dahmen. “He didn’t make it bigger than it needed to be for him. He said he had a sense of calmness, which is kind of weird … when those things happen, you’re just a different being, and he certainly felt that.”

    Brehm has always been good at maintaining perspective.

    Adam Long tells a story that proves instructive. The Duke alum first met Brehm at a college event in the late 2000s (Brehm played for Michigan State), and they grew close while competing on the NGA Hooters Tour in the early 2010s, traveling and playing practice rounds together.

    During a practice round for an event at Woodcreek Farms in Columbia, South Carolina, Long made a hole-in-one. Brehm was playing in the group ahead.

    “Ryan had zero excitement,” Long said with a laugh. “There was no reaction at all, like, I don’t even know if he gave me a thumbs-up. He was so even-keeled.”

    It was only a practice round, after all.

    Upon Brehm’s victory in Puerto Rico, Long circled back to the memory via text message.

    “I said, ‘I am so proud of you guys, so happy for you,’” Long said with a laugh. “Way happier than you were for my hole-in-one.”

    Brehm’s path to the TOUR winner’s circle was not linear. He struggled upon turning pro and spent time as an assistant coach and interim head coach at Michigan State. From there, he returned to the mini-tours before breaking through at the 2015 Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament, finishing T5 at Final Stage.

    In his first Korn Ferry Tour season, he entered the Regular Season-ending WinCo Foods Portland Open outside the all-important top 25 who would earn a PGA TOUR card. He won the WinCo, though, to move inside The 25 and earn his TOUR card. The odd man out, finishing No. 26, was Xander Schauffele.

    To get an idea how much Brehm is liked, consider that Schauffele, upon arrival in northeast Florida on Sunday for THE PLAYERS, tuned into the Golf Channel coverage of Brehm’s big win in Puerto Rico.

    "I mean, it’s what it’s all about,” Schauffele said. “When good things happen to good people, it’s always a feel-good moment for everyone. I saw the end, and I saw the boys hanging out in the back (to congratulate him) … you know how important it was to him. It’s a really cool thing.”

    Dahmen, traveling to THE PLAYERS on Sunday from his home in Arizona, was also intent on seeing Brehm’s big moment. He looked online to confirm his flight had Golf Channel on its TVs.

    “Otherwise,” he said, “I was switching the flight or was going to stay home until Monday.”

    Brehm’s would-be Zurich partner watched a few holes on the plane, and after arriving at Washington-Dulles for his layover raced to an airport lounge to watch the final few holes.

    “For a guy who is maybe not real well-known out here, the people that know him love him,” Dahmen said. “We were just so excited; my wife was crying.

    “Because on the back end of this, we’ve all struggled. We were in Canada together; he quit the game for a couple years, coached and got back into the game. He’s been out here for three years; he’s had his struggles through this, and we all know he’s a better player than he had shown. Just so excited for him and the family.”

    Brehm’s first crack at the TOUR, after edging out Schauffele, didn’t go well as he posted just one top-25 finish in 25 starts in 2016-17. He failed to keep his card. After two more Korn Ferry Tour seasons, he won the LECOM Health Challenge to earn another TOUR opportunity via a spot on the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List.

    Back on TOUR, it was more of the same: just two top-25s in 38 starts across the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. And his on-course concerns paled in comparison to the bigger picture.

    In September 2020, Brehm’s mom, Debbie, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. She passed away in January of 2021, at age 61.

    "Last year really sucked,” Chelsey said. “It’s a diagnosis where there’s nothing you can do about it. She was incredibly strong, incredibly sarcastic and hilarious. She was a great mom. She took him to junior events. She was a major, major force in his life.”

    With the support of family and friends across the golf and non-golf communities, Brehm persevered. His game returned to form, as well; he was 4-for-4 in made cuts to begin the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour season, and he stood No. 22 on the Points List at the Tour’s three-week hiatus.

    During the break in the action, he decided to utilize his one PGA TOUR start via his minor medical extension from Zurich. Brehm had always liked island golf – he finished T11 at last year’s Puerto Rico Open, and roomed with Dahmen the week of the latter’s breakthrough title at the 2021 Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.

    From the get-go last week, Brehm felt he might be experiencing something special. He made 30-foot putts. He made birdies from the trees. He was able to stay in the moment.

    “Presence is a beautiful thing,” Chelsey said. “His mom was with us, for sure.”

    The victory has led to a few logistical changes. The Brehms flew from San Juan to Jacksonville, Florida, and while their car is parked in Fort Myers, Chelsey’s dad will drive it up for the week. Also, Brehm had only packed seven shirts; Chelsey called Roger Sloan’s wife, Casey, to arrange to use the washer and dryer at the Sloans’ rental house this week.

    But those are just details. What’s important is that Brehm is fully exempt on the PGA TOUR through 2023-24, with forever a position on the TOUR’s Priority Ranking.

    “In a sense, it was almost so ridiculous, that there was no pressure,” Long said. “Pressure situation, everything on the line, and he was just out there having fun with his wife. I think there’s something to be learned for all of us there. This game … every day it’s beating you up. You’ve got to have some perspective. Ryan has always had very good perspective.

    “It’s an extremely popular win amongst the guys,” he continued. “Anybody that has known Ryan for a minute or for several years like I have, you’re super happy for him and Chelsey. It couldn’t happen to better people and they’ve had enough negative stuff go on in their life in the last few years that it’s great to see some happiness and things go their way.”

    Earlier this week, reigning Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year Stephan Jaeger ran into Brehm at TPC Sawgrass. He offered his congratulations and asked if Brehm had yet woken up.

    “Stay asleep as long as you can,” Jaeger said.

    Brehm won’t have trouble doing so.

    Kevin Prise is an associate editor for PGATOUR.COM. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.

    Privacy PolicyTerms of UseAccessibility StatementDo Not Sell or Share My Personal InformationCookie ChoicesSitemap

    Copyright © 2024 PGA TOUR, Inc. All rights reserved.

    PGA TOUR, PGA TOUR Champions, and the Swinging Golfer design are registered trademarks. The Korn Ferry trademark is also a registered trademark, and is used in the Korn Ferry Tour logo with permission.