Bryan Bigley now plays for pay, and he’s making the transition from amateur standout to young professional a lot more quickly than he anticipated.
The 23-year-old Schalmont High School and Siena College graduate made the cut and earned $1,600 in his first professional tournament in early March at the Tarheel Tour’s Rivertowne Open at Rivertowne Golf Club in Mount Pleasant, S.C. With rounds of 73, 74 and 71, Bigley shot a two-over-par three-day total of 218.
“It’s nice to make the cut in my very first event. It really boosts my confidence,” said Bigley. “Going out there against those guys, I didn’t know what to expect. Playing amateur golf is different than going out and playing professionally for a living. I was wondering just how good the guys out here are, and I was also wondering how well I was going to play. But it sure is nice to play well and make a little money.”
A “little” money is the appropriate description, because Bigley is not getting rich on this mini tour.
“It costs $900 for the entry fee, and when you add the travel expenses, I made about $500 or $600,” Bigley said.
“It’s funny, because I was joking with my dad recently that if I win a tournament and make a big check, I was going to go out and buy a really nice TV. But the day before the tournament, my TV broke, so I had to go out and buy a new one. I can’t live without a TV.”
Bigley has always been a confident player, and he wasn’t anxious about making his pro debut.
“Surprisingly, I wasn’t that nervous, but there was a good reason,” he said. “We actually started that tournament the week before, and it got cancelled. I got to play 13 holes on one day and eight more holes the second day before they cancelled it, so I had some tournament rounds under my belt as a pro that didn’t count on my score. That was an advantage for me, because I knew what to expect.”
Fortunately, Bigley is used to having played against strong players from a young age.
“There are a lot of good players down here. It’s sort of like playing against 60 of my brothers and guys like [Antlers standout] Dan Russo. They are all very good. But it’s still golf. Everyone starts at zero strokes, and you still play 18 holes.”
Bigley also has a job on the grounds crew at Rain Tree Country Club to help out with the expenses.
“I work about 30 hours a week. My boss is great, and I have full playing privileges at the club. They liked me right away, because I told them I already had nine years of experience working for my father [Pinehaven Country Club course superintendent Rob Bigley].”
Bigley is able to work around his playing schedule. “They’ve been great to me. I’m going to limit my tournament schedule to a couple of events per month, and I plan on playing 10-15 events. If I do well, that may change.”
Always a solid ball-striker, Bigley knows that he must work on his weaknesses to be a successful pro.
“I’m working hard on my short game — putting in particular,” he said. “I’m not hitting as many balls as I used to. Now, I’ve got to putt for an hour before hitting balls for a half-hour. Everything is putting down here. I just got the “Super Stroke” practice device, the one that K.J. Choi uses. If it works, I’ll keep using it. This device helps you use your arms and shoulders in your putting stroke, and it helps keep the clubface more square. Right now, I’m using a conventional putter with a two-ball head and a fat grip, but I used an old Ping Anser when I made the cut.”
Besides putting better, Bigley said the key to scoring well as a professional is avoiding errors.
“You’ve got to limit your mistakes out here. Staying away from bogeys and double-bogeys is the key. As an amateur, if you shoot even-par, you probably will win the tournament. You can make a double-bogey and still come back with three or four birdies. But down here, if you make a double, you’re not only throwing away two shots, but you are dropping places on the leaderboard and losing money.
“I saw a stat the other day that really impressed me. Someone did a study and went through the PGA Tour stats. If somebody shoots one-under-par each round, they would miss only two cuts all year and make more than $2 million. Consistency is the key. If you can go out and shoot between 69 and 71 every round, you can make money out here.”
Avoiding mistakes also means taking a few less chances.
“I would say that I take more calculated chances now. For instance, on the last course I played, I didn’t go for a single par-5 in two, even though I was less than 250 yards away each time. It killed me to lay up, to be honest, but I did. Only take a risk if it’s worth it to pull it off.”
Bigley said he will give himself a couple of years to see of he can make it on the mini tours.
“They don’t think anyone from New York can play down here, but it’s all about confidence and desire,” he said.
Bigley was a dominant player in the Capital Region, winning a pair of Gazette Men’s County Amateur titles, a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship and the Capital Stroke Play crown with a course-record at Wolferts Roost Country Club, among the most notable events. Last year, he broke his father’s County Amateur three-day scoring record with a 15-under-par 201 at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
“I would say winning the County Amateur last year and breaking my father’s record was my most memorable event as an amateur. I also enjoyed it when we won the MAAC Championship for the first time when I was a junior. My brother [Rob Bigley Jr.] was a senior that year, and he finally got to go to the NCAA tournament.
“I was so lucky growing up and playing against my brother and my dad, who were such good players. It was a tremendous advantage for me.”