Wu building confidence as Korn Ferry Tour season continues
July 30, 2020
By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
- Brandon Wu finished T9 last week at the Price Cutter Charity Championship presented by Dr Pepper. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
One of the best days of Brandon Wu’s life started with him feeling pretty bummed when he woke up.
As part of Stanford University’s Class of 2019 Wu, who was part of the storied university’s NCAA Men’s National Championship-winning golf team earlier in the year, would not be walking across the stage with a cap and gown to receive his diploma on that Sunday in June with all his friends.
Instead he had a 12:30 p.m. tee-time with former world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
What he didn’t know is that the United States Golf Association had something special up its sleeve. Its incoming president, Stu Francis (who holds an MBA from Stanford’s business school) had a diploma from the school with him. It was presented to Wu on the 18th green, and Wu would go on to finish T35 at the tournament – just one stroke back of winning Low Amateur honors.
“That day was awesome,” says Wu with a laugh – almost as if he can’t believe it actually happened. “It was so cool how that played out. It’s something you can only dream of, for sure. I’ll have that whole day with me the rest of my life.”
With his degree in Product Design (part of the engineering program) in tow, Wu is hoping his lessons learned at Stanford – both on the course and off – would lead him to early success as a professional golfer.
Wu helped lead the U.S. team to victory at the 2019 Walker Cup and turned pro right after that, making his debut in Europe. There he met Jim Crane, the owner of the Houston Astros, and he received a Sponsor Exemption into the Houston Open, where he would finish T17.
Wu struggled at Q-School and made his 2020 Korn Ferry Tour debut last week at the Price Cutter Charity Championship presented by Dr Pepper and would finish T9 after holding the 54-hole lead.
“Confidence is a really interesting thing because people talk about, ‘Oh you have to have it.’ But I think it’s something you have to earn. It’s not something you can just say, ‘I’m confident, I can do this,’” says Wu of the biggest takeaway he had after being in the mix on Sunday for the first time on the Korn Ferry Tour.
“It was really fun having the lead there. It was disappointing to not win the tournament but to keep putting myself in that position it shows I have the skills to do it and the ability, so I just have to piece it together and keep the pedal down until the last day and finish it off.”
Wu says his final season at Stanford was the classic example of not giving up until the very end. His coach at Stanford, Conrad Ray, told his squad it was “the worst” fall season he had ever seen as a coach. He believed in the team, though, and told them all to keep believing in themselves.
“Sometimes in golf that’s how it goes,” says Wu. “You have to stay patient and keep working hard and hope your luck turns around.“
The team ended up improving in the winter before catching fire in the spring – the Cardinal won five tournaments in a row to end the season, including the National Championship. Going through the ups and downs of his senior season made the National Championship victory “that much sweeter” for the team.
“Having your teammates there every step of the way really made the difference and probably helped. It was cool to do it together as group,” says Wu. “We saw how hard everyone was working towards the same goal – not pushing each other but not giving up.”
A difficult final season on the golf course was compounded by Stanford’s notoriously difficult academic pressure for Wu. He mostly took classes in the realm of mechanical engineering in his first two years – heavy on the physics, mechanics, and stats. In his final two years most of the design classes were group project-based (they would interview people to see what kind of problems their companies were having and would have to design a solution for them) but they mostly happened in the afternoon, which majorly impeded on Wu’s golf time.
His school requests got interesting because Stanford’s coach had never had someone major in Product Design before. Usually everyone arranges their schedule to have morning classes in order to play and practice in the afternoon, but in Wu’s final two years mandatory classes came after lunch. He would miss practice and had to go out early to post a score and try to qualify for the team that way.
“That was definitely a challenge,” says Wu. “Group projects were always tough. You have to do them in person and especially if you had a project that requires you to go into a lab… travelling on the road there was nothing you could do. There were definitely times with group members being frustrated with me not being there.
“But you spend so much time interviewing people, talking to people and observing mannerisms, etc. Most of that is how to empathize with people. That was just a good life skill beyond golf but it was useful in golf too. You can empathize with yourself and start being kind to yourself.”
Wu says growing up he actually had more fun playing other sports like baseball or spending time in the pool as a competitive swimmer. It was a bit lonely for him at the golf course just practicing alone. That all changed, he says, when he joined his middle school golf team.
That camaraderie continued through high school and of course, at Stanford as well. For such an individualistic game, Wu has managed to have the most success while part of a team.
He knows he’s out fending for himself now, but his confidence has been buoyed by seeing guys like Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff, and Viktor Hovland have early success on the PGA TOUR straight out of college. That, he says, makes him feel like golf at the highest level is similar to college competitions. But there are a lot of differences as well.
“It’s so deep. Everyone is suddenly an elite player and everyone has a unique story and the will the win as well,” says Wu. “It becomes a little more competitive like that. It’s been interesting, but earlier this week I played a practice round with James Nicholas and Chandler Phillips and I thought it was pretty cool to now be able to do that week-to-week. I’m happy to have some success instead of waiting around.”
Wu’s done enough waiting – to turn professional, for an opportunity to compete with the best on the Korn Ferry Tour, and of course, to receive his Stanford diploma. Now it’s time for action.