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Seeking America’s next rising golf star? Here’s why the Genesis is a good place to look.

Michael Brennan

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Besides sharing a month on the calendar, there’s little connective tissue between last week’s raucous Phoenix Open and this week’s placid Genesis Invitational. But there is one piece of Scottie Scheffler’s win and Sahith Theegala’s impressive start that bridges the two events: the Genesis Invitational Collegiate Showcase.

Every year, this week’s Invitational grants a sponsor’s exemption to the best of about 15-20 collegians invited to take on RCC the Monday of the event. Back in 2018, that was Scheffler, then a senior at Texas. In 2017, it was Theegala, then a sophomore at Pepperdine. 

More often than not, it’s clear, the winner of the Showcase has gone on to quickly make an impact on the PGA Tour. (Will Zalatoris, 2021 Tour Rookie of the Year, won the inaugural event as a freshman in 2015.) This week’s winner is Wake Forest sophomore Michael Brennan, the 19th-ranked amateur in the world who put together a damn-near-perfect 66 Monday. 

Will he follow in the footsteps of Scheffler, Theegala and Zalatoris? It’s of course much too soon to place those thoughts on him. Too soon to even place them into the ether. But comparisons like that take place at the Showcase every single year. The best ams compete for a chance to hang among the best pros. As he tapped in for five under, world No. 3 Viktor Hovland trotted on by, headed to the range. Tour rookie Cameron Young hung around to congratulate him. Zalatoris did, too, but he had been watching all day long from the same pro-am group.

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“The kid moves it,” Zalatoris said. “He’d be Top 10 in driving on Tour, distance-wise. And today, seeing him hit a few irons in there — stoney — where he didn’t even have to mark it. Just tap it in. Man, you’re making this place look easy. It’s not that easy, I promise you. I’ve played here a few times.”

It’s not easy at all. Riviera routinely plays as one of the toughest courses on Tour, but there was Brennan, five under through 11 after making a 20-footer for eagle. Zalatoris’ “stoney” description elicited a chuckle from Brennan, who despite shooting the best score in the event’s eight-year history, anxiously waited for the scores to roll in, just to make it official. He two-putted for par from the back of the 18th green to win by two, single-checked, double-checked and finally triple-checked his score before signing the card.

Ten minutes later, he stood atop the 1st tee at RCC, one of the most recognizable tee boxes in all of golf. It’s the highest point on the property, towers over the 1st fairway, from which it is quite natural to consider all the shots you just took, or the shots you’re about to take the rest of the week. Brennan had just completed his first career trip around RCC, and somehow earned his first Tour start in the process.

“Obviously, I want to play well,” he said, taking in the view. “But regardless of how I play, being able to play out here, on Thursday, with the big boys, is pretty cool.”  

The exemption into this week’s event is just another part of Brennan’s life that’s headed in the pro golf direction. He signed with Wasserman Media Group just last week, thanks to the new Name, Image and Likeness rules enacted by the NCAA. Not 30 minutes after his round, Terry Reilly, an exec at Wasserman, was on the phone with Brennan’s family discussing travel plans and how to hire a legit, pro caddie to loop for him at this tricky, intrinsic course set up to challenge the world’s best.

While his teammates head back to the East Coast for an event this weekend, Brennan is now stuck here in sunny California for the rest of the week, for the all the best reasons. Brennan won’t be completely on his own, but some of those lonely realities of pro golf have conveniently arrived a bit sooner than expected.

“We’re playing down in Destin, Fla., this weekend and I’ll have to miss it” he said, a grin washing over his face. “Bummer! [laughs] Snap!”

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