CLEMSON — Jacob Bridgeman’s putt on the 12th green at the Maui Jim Intercollegiate in September was anything but the effort of a future pro. His ball was a few feet from the hole, but the Clemson elder approached the ball and slapped it hastily.
Jordan Byrd, his trainer, could have cracked. But once his eyes met Bridgeman’s, he knew there was no need.
“You could see the fire in his eyes,” Byrd said. “I wanted to choke him for not taking his time and missing that short little putt, but I knew I didn’t need to say anything. He was going to bounce back and mind his own business.
Bridgeman is cool-headed on the outside, but his eyes provide a window to what’s moving inside. It’s a fire of competition so fierce it doesn’t need to be fanned. Byrd simply gave up, and Bridgeman then birdied the next five holes and finished his second round at Maui Jim in just 62 strokes.
After a fall golf season with ups and downs, Bridgeman has been sizzling this spring. He’s now Clemson’s career leader in innings in the ’60s, totaling 49. He won the ACC Individual title on April 23, which was his fifth straight top-four win – the first Tiger to score this feat in 20 years.
During that streak, Bridgeman went from No. 14 to No. 2 nationally in the PGA Tour University rankings. He was the ACC Men’s Golfer of the Month twice.
Bridgeman found himself recognized as one of the best collegiate golfers in the country, leading the Wells Fargo Invitational Tournament Director to call out the Clemson star and offer a sponsor exemption to compete as an amateur at the PGA Tour event. The Inman native struggled on May 5 to shoot a plus-6 in his first round.
But it meant something just to be on that stage.
“I would say since I was little and thinking, ‘I’ll be a professional golfer when I grow up,’ it’s been my dream to play on the PGA Tour,” Bridgeman said. “I wrote it on everything, ‘When I grow up…’ I’ll be a professional golfer.”
Bridgeman appears squarely on this track, which started as a kid hanging out with his dad on golf outings. He was also a talented baseball player, but Bridgeman found himself playing travel games on the weekends and practicing his golf game during the week. He loved the complexity of golf, navigating every shot from tee to hole.
He also preferred to have things under his control. Bridgeman never liked taking a hit and watching his teammates hit.
“I’ve never been one to show my emotions, I’ve been really balanced in everything I’ve ever done,” Bridgeman said, “but I get pretty fiery on the inside. My competitive nature takes the top.
Seeing that look in Bridgeman’s eyes, Byrd learned when not to speak. As in Maui Jim, Bridgeman corrects himself because he wants to win. It was only a matter of time before he became this complete player at Clemson, someone who can have a bad day with the putter, and his driver or his irons take over. Or he’ll err on the fairway but sink a 40-foot putt.
When he hits the green, Bridgeman is usually focused on the laser.
“I don’t think he knows anything else in the world in those 40 seconds he’s setting up his putt,” Byrd said. “You can see him totally engrossed in reading the green, probing the speed of the green, figuring out the slope, how that putt is going to break. And then you see him engage and paint the picture of what the ball is going to do.
Bridgeman has mastered his environment better. But like most things in golf, it didn’t come without difficulty.
As a freshman, perhaps her biggest hurdle was her academic major.
The son of a math teacher, Bridgeman dabbled in math science in first grade. But he couldn’t work out the balance between time spent with lessons and time spent on the actual course. He didn’t have the same gift for compartmentalization as Clemson grad Doc Redman, who also studied math.
“Jacob learned very quickly, when those two things intersect, you worry about your studies in practice, or you worry about your golf game while you’re trying to study, it’s not going well,” says Byrd.
Bridgeman ended up changing his major to business, and teammate Bryson Nimmer, who was a little further down the same academic path, was able to provide some pointers. It freed up some mental energy for Bridgeman.
Despite not winning an event as a freshman, Bridgeman broke through as a sophomore at the 2020 Palmetto Invitational, sinking 16 birdies and finishing 12 under par. As a junior, he was a second-team All-American and a first-team All-ACC – academically and on the course.
Bridgeman also finished second on Clemson’s team in stroke average in 2021, just behind national champion Turk Pettit.
This year, Bridgeman was expected to be at the top of the golf pecking order, not just at Clemson, but nationally. This made a lackluster fall season a little worrying. But, again, that was because he was taking on a heavier course load, trying to free up time for golf in the spring.
“He said, ‘Hey, coach, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me,” Byrd said. “It helped me relax.”
Byrd knows Bridgeman will take care of business. He did it so well this spring that the Clemson senior has blazed some trails as a future pro.
In March, Bridgeman won a PGA Tour Canada qualifying tournament in Dothan, Alabama, which qualified him to play on the MacKenzie Tour this summer. At the same time, if Bridgeman finishes the year in the top five of the PGA Tour University Rankings, he will be eligible to compete in all open and sold-out events on the PGA Developmental Korn Ferry Tour this summer.
Bridgeman’s play earned him the opportunity this weekend at the Wells Fargo Invitational, surrounded by half a dozen Clemson alumni, including former teammates Nimmer and Pettit. Byrd’s brother Jonathan, a 19-year-old professional, is also in the tournament, along with Ben Martin and Lucas Glover.
Bridgeman literally stays with Redman.
“There’s a bunch of guys to lean on this week,” Byrd said. “These little things make a big difference.”
There was a hiccup on Bridgeman’s way to the event, however. Two irons from Bridgeman were bent on the flight there. Fortunately, PGA events are well-staffed who can address these issues.
Bridgeman is on his way, at least, competing alongside Rory McIlroy, Zach Johnson and Sergio Garcia. As Bridgeman says, “I’ll go out and start playing and get punched in the face.”
“These guys are better than me in some areas, and I have to improve and take things as they come and see where I can learn and figure out where I need to improve,” Bridgeman added. “It’s the same thing, from junior golf to college golf. It’s a learning curve.
It’s inevitable. But it is better to start the process now than later. Bridgeman’s debut comes at a perfect time, as the Tigers have a week off before the May 16-18 NCAA Regionals.
He also came to play his best golf.
“If he wasn’t the best golf fan I would be surprised,” Byrd said. “It’s great to see a guy play in a PGA Tour event and see what the best can do on that stage.”