Bennett Wisner and his father, Bob, made the most of their family’s getaway to Hilton Head, South Carolina, in April of 2007, in search of warm weather and a spot for a potential vacation home.
Father and son got a chance to watch a practice round at a PGA Tour event in town, thanks to a realtor that wasn’t able to use a pair of tickets during that week. The Wisners went to Harbour Town Golf Links for the Verizon Heritage tournament, where Zach Johnson was in the field fresh off a win at the Masters.
Wisner wanted nothing more than for he and his dad to catch a glimpse of Johnson, like him a Fellowship of Christian Athletes member. For all Wisner knew back then, Johnson just might let him wear his green jacket.
The duo met Johnson, and the youngest got a photo and autograph. But the entire experience changed Wisner’s life forever, he said.
“We were walking off the course,” Wisner said, “and I told [my dad] I was done with soccer, I was done with lacrosse, and I wanted to be a professional golfer.”
The Hampstead native has been playing for more than a decade now, and is trying to close in on achieving his dream.
Wisner graduated from Loyola University Maryland last spring and filled his schedule with as much golf as possible. Last summer, he made a run at earning his Web.com Tour card and came up a little short despite playing well at a Q School pre-qualifying event (7-under, tied for seventh place).
That led to his playing in a Coastal Player Tour event in North Carolina in September, one that ended with him sinking a birdie putt on the first playoff hole to take the tournament championship for his first pro victory.
The mini tours and qualifying events are Wisner’s focus once again as he gears up for his 2019 schedule. But the former member at Piney Branch Golf Club said he doesn’t forget where he came from, and how much work he has put into improving his game.
“To think back at that 10-year-old kid who hadn’t even started, but he had a dream and he just had a passion and wanted to pursue it, to now being the 22-year-old version of him an actually doing it … and doing it pretty well for how young I am and, quite frankly, how poorly I played in college,” Wisner said. “I wasn’t playing really well. I don’t want to say I lost sight of what I wanted to be, but I was feeling like I was losing some ground.
Wisner was an all-Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association selection at Boys’ Latin, and later earned second-team all-Patriot League honors while at Loyola, but never won a college tournament. He wasn’t satisfied with his game at the time, a game that allowed him to shoot 63 at Piney Branch as a 14-year-old in 2011 and break the course record.
Wisner said he changed swing coaches after college and started learning under Pat Coyner, a private instructor at Woodholme Country Club in Pikesville. He consults with a sports psychologist, and keeps his parents and girlfriend close for support.
“I’ve really been focused on surrounding myself with the right people, people that have the same passion in what I’m trying to do,” Wisner said.
In 2012, Wisner played in the Junior PGA Championship at age 15. Three years ago, he competed in the Carroll County Amateur on his home course at Piney Branch.
Those tournaments are good experiences, but Wisner’s objective is to turn pro for good.
He’s headed to a SwingThrough Tour event in Myrtle Beach at the end of this month, and has a date in early March for the PGA Canada Q School qualifier in Florida.
Wisner said his success on the Coastal Players Tour, and winning in September, gave him the motivation and confidence to keep at it. Traveling to tournaments can be a lonely exercise, he said, but the payoff is more than enough to continue.
“People who want to see me do well, they’re always the people that are going to be there with you until it’s over,” Wisner said. “I’ve had a couple of people … tell me that I’ve got to shorten up the practice schedule so I don’t fatigue easily. but I’m having more fun in the past nine months than I’ve had in all of my decade of playing.