Growth of a golfer: Determined Wortman loosens grip, drives to be the best

Bryce Wortman said he’s working on balancing his competitive nature and controlling his emotions. EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLE

CRESWELL – At 8 years old, Bryce Wortman of Creswell won his first golf tournament. At 13, he knew he wanted to be a professional golfer. On June 27, the redshirt college senior, now 22, won the Oregon State Amateur golf title. Although Wortman is considered a consistent athlete, the skill that makes his game successful takes more than natural talent.

Competitive by nature, right as Wortman entered high school he said he was obsessed with golf and strived to be better than his fellow student golfers.

He plays at San Jose State University (SJSU) in California, where he will be starting next season as a fifth-year senior.

Wortman won the 111th Oregon State Amateur title last month in dominating fashion. At one point, he won five consecutive holes and took an 8-up lead with only nine holes to play in the match-play format.

“Winning golf tournaments is really hard. It helps make the work seem like it’s worth doing,” Wortman said. “Where I want to be is with the 1% of guys. That’s why I work. I strive to play, compete, and beat those guys.”

With great drive for success comes great pressure, and Wortman said he has struggled with the same mental training issues since he was 13 years old. The difficulty lies in trusting his judgment when he’s on the course, and feeling like he can rely on his past training to lead him to success in the moment.

“Everything I work toward now is building confidence and my ability to still perform when the lights are bright,” Wortman said. “How do I trust the technique when I have to? In the most important moments, how do I have faith that what I’ve worked on in the past is the right thing?”

SJSU sports psychologist and coach Dave Yukelson, 66, has been working with Wortman on his capability for mental strength during matches. Yukelson has been a sports psychologist for almost 30 years, and said he often talks to Wortman about the idea of “playing free.”

“He’s really driven. He’s really goal-oriented. He really wants to win, and sometimes in athletics when you want it too bad to win, you get in your own way,” Yukelson said. “You have to learn to let go of mistakes and keep focused.” 

The head golf coach at SJSU, John Kennaday (J.K.), 55, has been coaching for 27 years. Kennaday said Wortman’s win at the Oregon Amateur was evidence of how far he’s come with his understanding of the game. When Wortman first started playing college golf, he had misplaced his confidence, which isn’t uncommon in golf. 

“There was a definite time where Bryce was his own worst enemy. Quite often that takes players out of the elite level of competition,” Kennaday said.

Wortman has worked closely with his coaches for years, and Kennaday said Wortman fought back from what he calls “the depths of doubt.”

“He’s amazed me,” Kennaday said. “Bryce has that love for the game that you need to get to that point of where you could be successful in professional golf.”

Wortman said he is working on “disconnecting” himself from the pressure of constant victory, and does not want to be stressed out all the time about “winning, winning, winning.”

“I’m trying to get to where I trust my technique,” Wortman said. “As I’ve gotten older and experienced more of how much fun and competitive I can get with golf, the more I’m okay with losing in other aspects.” 

Quarantine restrictions have given Wortman extra time to focus on strengthening his mental state and enjoying life outside of golf. One of the ways he has been able to spend the extra time is by playing video games with his brother Trey, 20. 

“He doesn’t like to lose at anything,” Bryce said. “I don’t like to lose in golf, but I can take losing at Uno or Scrabble.”

According to Wortman, quarantine has been a “blessing.” The extra time to recharge with video games, play casual golf and work on his mental game may have helped him win at the Oregon State Amateur tournament. 

“I’m a person that plays golf, not a golfer that does other things,” Wortman said.

Uncertainty about the future is still affecting sports. He said he hopes to compete this season, but should the pandemic continue to delay the season, he’ll try and compete in a sixth year.

“His moral compass has served our team well. I think this golf success is a byproduct of his outstanding character,” Kennaday said.

Although he doesn’t currently hold a spot at this year’s U.S. Amateur, Wortman hangs onto the possibility of being an alternate.

Until then, he plans on practicing to keep his skills sharp until next season starts.