Brandon Wu will always remember the 18th green at Pebble Beach.
Not only did he tie for 35th there at the U.S. Open on June 16, but that’s also the date and location of his graduation ceremony from Stanford University.
The eight-year Scarsdale resident may not be a household name locally since he attended boarding school for junior high and high school, but he grabbed plenty of national attention between his performance — he was second among amateurs at the Open — and having to miss graduation after making the cut to advance to the final two days of the Open.
“Come Friday night when I made the cut I was like, ‘Wow,’” Wu said. “It was definitely disappointing not getting to graduate with my classmates. They do this thing called the Wacky Walk at Stanford where everyone dresses up in costumes to roll into the stadium in the morning.
“The way I looked at it was graduation was just a culmination of your four years and it’s a cool ceremony and all, but the more important stuff is your four years there. Going to school and learning from your classmates and hanging out with your friends, that’s the important stuff. Missing one day on top of four years was not too bad for me.”
Seventy-nine of the 156 golfers made the cut after 36 holes. Gary Woodland was 13-under 271 to win by three strokes over Brooks Koepka. Norway’s Viktor Hovlan was the top amateur finisher, tying for 12th at 280. Wu tied for 35th with a 1-over 285 (71-69-71-74). Some of the biggest names in golf finished well behind him.
The final day of the Open, Wu played with Dustin Johnson, who spent 64 weeks at No. 1 in the world. That day was also another moment that grabbed some headlines as after Wu signed his scorecard he was escorted back out to the 18th green and was surprised with a personal graduation ceremony as tour officials handed him his diploma in front of his mom, dad and two younger brothers. “That was super cool,” he said. “They kept it all under wraps.”
Wu has “lived” in Scarsdale for eight years, but attended Eaglebrook School and Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, then his college years on the West Coast. Wu grew up in California and moved to Beijing when he was 8 years old, still returning to California for summers.
In California, the Wu family “lived on two golf courses more or less,” and when Wu was 6 or 7 his dad, Alan, first put a club in his hand.
“He actually started about the same time, which is kind of interesting, so we did that together, learned that together,” Wu said. “He had friends who played and spoke highly of it. The resources were right there.”
Swimming, baseball and football were also in Wu’s repertoire over the years as the golf “took a while.”
“Even in middle school I wasn’t super into it,” Wu said. “I had been pretty decent at it and I played in some big tournaments, but it wasn’t super exciting when I was 12 or 13 compared to some of the other sports.”
Wu’s parents urged him to choose golf over baseball at Eaglebrook. Playing on a golf team for the first time was what sparked Wu’s path to where he is now.
“Up until then you’re just playing by yourself for the most part and it’s kind of boring sometimes,” Wu said. “Being on that team was pretty cool.”
As a seventh-grader, Wu played No. 1 at Eaglebrook. In his early high school years Wu began playing American Junior Golf Association tournaments and started getting attention from colleges.
Due to the short golf season in the Northeast, Wu was encouraged to attend boarding school in a better climate for the sport, but was intent on going to Deerfield and working hard on the course from April to August. “I valued the school experience and I knew I would figure out the golf thing eventually,” Wu said.
Wu first met Stanford coach Conrad Ray when he played a tournament over Christmas break in Georgia his sophomore year and the rest is history.
The first two years at Stanford, Maverick McNealy was the team’s star, the No. 1 amateur in the world.
“When you have a figure like that you’re always looking up to him, but you might not reach your full potential,” Wu said. “I was like the fifth guy my freshman year. You were trying to fulfill that role. I remember my coach pulling me aside one time and saying, ‘I don’t need you to go out and shoot 65 today. I need you to not shoot 77.’ I remember that one distinctly. You’ve got to be that solid guy that doesn’t blow up.”
Wu made his biggest leaps from sophomore to junior year and junior year to senior year. He credited his putting for putting him over the top.
“Breaking down the putting was the biggest difference,” Wu said. “I struggled immensely with inconsistency on the greens my first couple of years. Then I finally worked really hard on that. It was cool because you could see the results steadily. That next year I was putting better, scoring better because of it. I was playing No. 1 by my junior year.”
The summer before junior year, Wu won the Porter Cup at Niagara Falls Country Club. “It’s a very historic tournament,” he said. “I shot a 64 the last round to win by three. Big crowds out there, a great tournament. That was definitely a confidence booster.”
Senior year was “definitely a wild ride” for Wu and his teammates at Stanford. The fall was a struggle for the team, one of the team’s worst heading into the spring under Coach Ray. The team had been working hard, but just not playing typical Stanford standard golf. Once the spring came around, however, a sub-.500 record didn’t last much longer.
“The work started to pay off right then and there,” Wu said. “We started to play well. We played the Southern Highlands Intercollegiate Invitational, which is hosted by UNLV, and that’s notoriously one of the toughest fields. We were leading going into the last day. We ended up either second or third. We were under .500 at the time and beat all these great teams.”
Then Stanford won its home tournament. “From then on the momentum kept on rolling,” Wu said.
Rebounding in such dominant fashion leading to an NCAA Division 1 team championship and undefeated season the rest of the way was remarkable. “It makes for such a better story and a better feeling to know the hardships you went through and to see how far you’ve come from the beginning of the year,” Wu said. “It really shows the path travelled and the work you put in from point A to point B instead of always being on top. That was pretty cool to see it culminate in that national championship.”
When you think of Stanford golf, individuals like Tiger Woods and Tom Watson come to mind, but the five names engrained into the heads of Coach Ray’s players were Rob Grube, Daniel Lim, Zack Miller, Joseph Bramlett and Matt Savage. That was the 2007 team that won the national title. “Now the 2019 team will be a thing,” Wu said.
Among that group that beat Texas with Wu are Henry Shimp, Isaiah Salinda, Daulet Tuleubayev and David Snyder, the names the next generation of Stanford golfers will know by heart.
After that title May 24-29 at Blessings Golf Club in Arkansas was a whirlwind for Wu. Stanford won the title on a Wednesday and Wu went back to school that night. Two days later he had a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier in Columbus, Ohio. After he wrapped up his spot, Wu played in the Arnold Palmer Cup back in Arkansas at Alotian Golf Club, representing the U.S. against international college players. From there it was straight to Pebble Beach for three practice days.
Being around some of the best golfers in the world from NCAAs to the U.S. Open was a dream come true for Wu.
“I tried to be as positive as possible, not worry too much about how I played,” he said of the Open. “Obviously I wanted to play well. I wanted to learn from the experience and enjoy it. Basically it was my last week of college and luckily some of my friends and family were out there, so I was trying to soak it all in.”
Wu studied product design at Stanford engineering school, a major he loved as it stressed teamwork, creative thinking and communication. He’ll be putting some of that on hold as he plans to continue playing as an amateur this summer and turning pro soon after.
“Turning pro itself is not difficult,” Wu said. “You wake up one day and say you’re a pro and try and play for some money. I tell people it’s hard to become a successful pro and make a living off it. The idea is to go to Q School in the fall and try to qualify for the Korn Ferry Tour, which used to be web.com. I hope to qualify for that and play well enough to make it to the PGA.”
Wu is hoping to get selected for the Walker Cup in England and has the Porter Cup, the Western Am in Michigan and the Pan Am Games in Peru on his schedule already.
“I love golf and playing, but some of the travel and what comes with it is also exciting,” Wu said. “I love opportunities like this and hopefully I’ll get to go to England for the Walker Cup.”
School and weather were always potential factors in Wu’s growth as a golfer — neither seemed to slow him down — and neither of those will be an issue any longer as he will be able to focus on his sport full time.
“If you end up not playing well it’s OK as long as you know you played your best and prepared yourself the right way,” Wu said. “It’s about working hard leading up to it. I guess I have a certain amount of expectation, but I want to give it a shot and see how it goes.”
Wu noted the average PGA Tour rookie is in his late 20s. “There’s no timeline,” he said. “My coach says to give it a legit shot is at least five years. For me right now it does seem like a long time and hopefully I’d make it before then, but I don’t know. It is definitely a jump from college to the pros, so we’ll see.”