November 2020

On Course to Live the Dream: After a decorated junior and collegiate career, Bluffton’s Bryson Nimmer is scoring wins en route to PGA stardom

Author: Tim Wood | Photographer: M.KAT Photography

Bryson Nimmer at Berkeley Hall Golf Club

Even when you’re a first-team All-American and ACC Player of the Year and have a family name synonymous with success like Bryson Nimmer, there is no magical fast pass to PGA Tour fame. To earn stardom among thousands of wannabe legends, the 23-year-old Bluffton native knows he must first surrender to the process—one to two years on development tours (the PGA’s minor leagues), constant travel, and Monday PGA Tour qualifier pressure cookers, fighting for a big-league tee time in tourney fields full of teen phenoms and 50-year-old former stars.

Each swing is crucial in a grueling gauntlet of mental torture traps to prove you belong before the money, sponsor support and opportunities dry up. “Time is everything. There is a very small window to show you’re worthy to play among the elite,” Nimmer said in an Oct. 12 interview after playing in one of his first Monday PGA qualifier opportunities since the COVID pandemic began.

Nimmer was fully committed to the grind, went straight from NCAA competition and Clemson graduation in mid-2019 to the PGA affiliate Mackenzie Tour in Canada, made eight of 11 cuts, and earned $20,000 in prize money in a six-month span. He was working the 2020 game plan he and his coach, Sea Pines golf pro Tim Cooke, had constructed. The goal: to qualify for the Korn Ferry Tour—one step away from the PGA Tour. Then came COVID. The world’s top players returned to competition in June, but developmental tours were crippled, as travel and funding concerns threatened to wipe out the 2020 season.

“So much of this game and what it takes to stand out is mental. A lot of dreams are on hold in the world in general, and certainly in our golf world,” Cooke said. “Some players won’t recover from this setback, but to know Bryson, his passion for the game and his focus and drive to excel, I know he’ll come out better on the other side of this.”

That passion for golf runs in the family, but Nimmer initially had other big-league dreams. His dad, Tony, was an all-ACC golfer at Clemson, and while he encouraged his three kids (sons Bryson and Ty and daughter Jordan) to play sports, he let them find their own passions growing up in Bluffton.

“Baseball was my thing. My best friend, Luke Higgs, we played on teams together and I loved practicing with him. We were going to be stars,” Nimmer said. “My dad was amazing; he coached me in everything, but he never forced golf on me. I looked up to him, but I never felt pressure to be him.”

Nimmer especially admired his father’s work ethic, marveled at the endless hours his dad and his brother devoted to building the family business, Nimmer Turf.

Nimmer savored playing golf with Tony and his family at Berkeley Hall, but it wasn’t until he became a teenager that he first thought of focusing on golf alone.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a loner, but I liked the solitude with golf. With baseball, you have to depend on others to practice,” he said. “With golf, I could get better on my own, and I loved that freedom—that there was no time limit to a practice, no limit to how good I could get. I really fell in love with the practice and seeing the results of that work.”

Nimmer started playing South Carolina Junior Golf Association tournaments but didn’t light up leaderboards at first. “I got beat up bad at first, but you had guys like Dustin Johnson, Lucas Glover and Ben Martin making their names out there,” he said. “I was not on that level, but I knew I liked that competition. I always believed I could hang with guys at that level if I just worked at it.”

Tony coached his son until his junior year, when he brought Nimmer to meet Cooke for the first time. “Tony called me and said, ‘I’ve taken him as far as I can, but I think it’s time for you to take over,’” Cooke said. “I think he came to the first couple of sessions, but from there, he really let us forge a partnership.”

Cooke has a history of molding elite juniors into PGA-ready players and saw special qualities in Nimmer from the start. “He has a passion and thirst for knowledge and for putting in the work that is truly extraordinary,” Cooke said. “He was a strong player before I ever started with him. But what stands out is he’s a strong communicator; he can tell you what he was feeling or thinking during a shot, and as a coach, that makes it so much easier to break down a swing and evolve his game. He has the mental makeup to take the teaching, take the little tweaks, and turn it into a big step forward.”

Nimmer said Cooke’s adaptability is what makes him such a perfect personal fit. “He’s a masterful technical teacher, but he melds his approach to each player. I’m much more of a feel player, and he sees that and connects right on my level,” Nimmer said.

Working with Cooke, Nimmer began to rise in the junior ranks. A win in the prestigious Jimmy Self tourney in 2013 put him on the elite collegiate radar. As a senior at Hilton Head Christian Academy, Nimmer started attracting attention from smaller Division I schools, including from legendary Wofford coach Vic Lipscomb. “My dad was close friends with him, and I really connected with Vic,” he said. “But when Clemson was able to match some of my other offers, I knew that was where I wanted to be.”

And not just because Tony and his mom, Patsy, were alums. “I knew if I wanted to go pro, Clemson was the right path,” Nimmer said.

Nimmer set 27 different school records with the Tigers, taking ACC Freshman of the Year honors and three all-ACC first-team awards. “I thrived in that atmosphere, the competition, the camaraderie. It was an honor to compete for Clemson,” he said.

Nimmer enjoyed his time in the classroom just as much, especially his sociology classes. “I enjoy studying people and what makes them tick,” he said. “I love reading about elite athletes and their makeup. Work ethic and drive, it’s the common thread among guys like Jordan, Ali and Tiger.”

Cooke said he sees that same tenacity in Nimmer. “His junior year at Clemson, he was the best in collegiate golf. I remember being on the range with him one day, and I asked him what he thought was different to get him to this level,” Cooke said. “His answer was brilliant. ‘I just don’t care what other people think.’ When you can lock out all the outside pressures and have the game he has, you have the chance to be exceptional.” Cooke said that focus is what has allowed Nimmer to move his game forward even in the midst of a worldwide crisis.

Nimmer returned home to Bluffton in March and focused on healing nagging lat and hip injuries and improving his game during three months of career uncertainty. “He just stayed positive, happy, focused on winning the day, zoned in on the wins he could control, like improving his short game,” Cooke said.

“I was grateful to be around familiar faces, grateful we were all healthy,” Nimmer said. “There were plenty of positives to focus my energy on.”

Equipped with a new putter and short-game plan, Bryson returned to action in late July, scoring his first pro win at the GPro Tour’s Greenville Open. He went on to score two wins and a second-place finish in the LocalIQ Series, a return-to-action cobbled by the PGA Tour, combining players from the Mackenzie Tour, PGA China Series and PGA Tour Latinoamérica.

Nimmer credits his time home with centering him and reigniting his passion to excel and put in the work.
“The Lowcountry, it’s just so special. I love the travel on tour, seeing new places, but knowing what I have here to come home to, I think it makes me enjoy the adventure more. Time out on the boat, at The Sandbar, it’s made me savor life and enjoy the ride,” he said. “I think of times like skim boarding with Luke at Coligny or going out to Daufuskie, just the beauty. Meeting my girlfriend, Paige Simms, at the Berkeley Hall gym during Clemson sophomore holiday break, being too shy to ask her out at first, getting a yes when I got the nerve up weeks later. So many of my best memories, what shape me, they’re here. The calm here, it’s given me a patience that’s so strong.”

Both Cooke and Nimmer say that patience is the secret sauce to maneuvering the road ahead. “He’ll likely take the LocalIQ points title, and that will give him a spot in one PGA Tour event in 2021. But even as he gets back to competing and excelling, there will be no Korn Ferry qualifying this fall. Even in a best-case scenario, his timeline is going to be pushed back,” Cooke said. “Patience in trusting the process is essential, and I know he can do it. He’s able to take the setbacks and all this uncertainty in stride and just have unwavering belief that his time is coming.”

Even when others seemingly get their moment ahead of him. “One of the biggest challenges is not comparing yourself to others, not second guessing the what ifs on the course and why I’m not as far along on my path as some of my friends,” Nimmer said. His college teammate and close friend, Doc Redman, turned a Monday PGA event qualifier win into a second-place finish at the 2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, a moment that jump started his PGA Tour career.

Nimmer almost had that moment on Oct. 12, just barely missing out to qualify for the PGA’s Bermuda Championship. “I have the patience to know my moment is coming,” he said. “And in the meantime, I’m putting in the work to seize the moment when it comes.”

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