HONOLULU – Joseph Bramlett waited for room to open up on the tiny practice range at Waialae Country Club, just like any other PGA Tour player. Typical of most rookies, he felt most comfortable being around players he knew from college and amateur days.
“Every kid like myself grows up wanting to play on the PGA Tour, playing on the biggest stage,” Bramlett said. “This is what I’ve trained for and prepared for my whole life. It’s very exciting for me. I’ve got a lot of opportunities.”
Whatever he gets out of golf, the Stanford graduate already is putting back in before he even turns in a scorecard. In a sport desperate for diversity, he is the first PGA Tour member of black heritage since Tiger Woods turned pro in 1996.
Bramlett doesn’t see himself differently from any other rookie, much less any other player.
Even so, he is willing to embrace the questions that are sure to follow. He had more media duties than any other player on a rain-soaked Wednesday at the Sony Open. And though he is more interested in the scores on his card than the color of his skin, Bramlett believes he can help make a difference.
“I certainly think numbers will help,” Bramlett said. “If you have more fresh and different faces out there … in terms of the public eye, I don’t know how significantly it will change. But I think when you can have little kids growing up and seeing that there is such a diverse group of people on the PGA Tour, it can truly inspire kids to think that, ‘I can do it, too.”’
Bramlett is among 26 rookies who are part of the 144-man field at the Sony Open, which is to begin Thursday depending on the weather. The course was closed Wednesday on the eve of the first full-field event of the PGA Tour season, and with more rain in the forecast, the question was whether the course will drain well enough to play.
Bramlett signed an endorsement deal with Nike. His caddie is A.J. Montecinos, who was on the bag for Y.E. Yang when the South Korean took down Woods at the PGA Championship in 2009 and became the first Asian to win a major.
And he can always lean on Woods, whom he already sees as a mentor.
Bramlett competed in the Junior World Championship with a team sponsored by the Tiger Woods Foundation. As a freshman, he sat in Woods’ living room and listened to stories with the rest of the Stanford golf team when the Cardinal played a tournament at Isleworth. They hooked up again when Woods came to Stanford during the Presidents Cup at Harding Park.
And when Bramlett qualified for the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, he arranged for a practice round with Woods.
“He’s been awesome for me,” Bramlett said. “He’s really just kind of mentored me in ways that truly helped my game and just growing up as a young person.”
Like Woods, Bramlett comes from a multiracial family – his father is black, his mother is white. He was attracted to golf not through social inspiration, but just like so many other players on tour: His father introduced him to the game while growing up in San Jose, Calif.
“I fell in love with the game before I knew who Tiger Woods was,” Bramlett said.
Woods was an influence by winning the Masters in 1997, and Bramlett’s father used to take him to watch Woods at Stanford. And when they finally met, he credits Woods for motivating him to work through injuries.
After he helped Stanford to an NCAA title as a freshman, Bramlett endured two injuries that nearly derailed his career – his right wrist when he slipped on a wet mat in the weight room as a sophomore, and ligament and tendon damage in the same wrist when he fell over the handle bars on his bike as a junior.
“He really just told me that you really just do whatever you have to do to get through it,” Bramlett said. “I think that applies not only to injuries, but to a lot of things in your life.”
Bramlett made it through Q-school on his first try, passing all three stages.
Now comes the hard part.
He finished high enough to make the field at the Sony Open, and he expects to be at Torrey Pines later this month and Pebble Beach. He is still waiting to see if can get in Phoenix and Riviera. Like other rookies, he needs places to play, and he needs to perform well quickly to help his chances the rest of the year.
Along the way, he expects to get plenty of questions about his heritage.
“Do I hope it wouldn’t be an issue? Yes. Will it be? I don’t know,” Bramlett said. “Hopefully, I can leave an impact on the game that can help change things. Tiger had a huge impact, and I’m just one of several kids coming up right now. I think that by the time I’m done and sitting in a rocking chair, that hopefully this game will look a little different.”