Like a lot of golf enthusiasts, Brad Lanning was glued to the television on Father’s Day watching the final round of the 123rd U.S. Open Championship. As the world witnessed Wyndham Clark’s improbable victory at The Los Angeles Country Club by holding off four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, the 52-year-old felt a sense of pride and connection to the new champion.
Lanning, one of the 156 competitors in the 43rd U.S. Senior Open at SentryWorld, served as the assistant coach for two seasons at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo., where Clark was the team’s best player. Lanning and his wife, Pam, had relocated to the area so he could attend Denver Seminary School with the hope of possibly becoming a high school guidance counselor.
To make ends meet, Pam was selling Mary Kay cosmetics, and while networking, she befriended Clark’s mom, Lise, who happened to be the company’s national sales director.
When Lise discovered Lanning was a golf pro – he had spent six years after college chasing his dreams on various tours – Lise mentioned she had a son who was a competitive golfer. An immediate friendship formed between the two families, which eventually led to Lise recommending Brad for an assistant coach position with Valor Christian.
Thirteen years later, Clark produced the biggest victory of his burgeoning career, and Lanning finally qualified for a USGA championship.
Talk about coming full circle.
“I just feel lucky that our lives kind of connected there for awhile when he was in high school,” said Lanning, who helped Clark harness his on-course temper. “Just lucky to have a little piece of his life. I’m so happy for him. He is such a good kid.
“It’s been great to see him mature. Every day I watched the coverage … he was just a rock. Greatest short game I’ve ever seen and most competitive kid I have ever coached. He was just a rock mentally.”
Three weeks before Clark saw his ultimate dream come to fruition, Lanning was fulfilling his own at Stevens Point Country Club. It had been Lanning’s lifelong ambition to qualify for a U.S. Open. Four trips to final qualifying failed to produce the ultimate prize, and when Lanning lipped out a birdie on No. 17, and then bogeyed the 18th at his May 26 U.S. Senior Open qualifier, the Hortonville, Wis., resident didn’t feel this attempt at playing a USGA event in his adopted home state would be a possibility.
But as the day’s scores trickled in, Lanning’s 73 somehow stood up for one of the two available spots. A few Spotted Cows were part of the post-round celebration, along with a bevvy of joyful tears.
“It was pretty emotional, I’ll be honest,” said Lanning. “My father passed away when I was 15 and I had a lifelong dream of playing golf in an Open on Father’s Day and was always short. This is pretty special, especially being in my backyard. I hope I play well.”
Lanning’s journey to SentryWorld is one full of twists and turns. Born in Ohio, his family moved to Florida when he was 3. His golf game was good enough to land a scholarship to Stanford University, where his teammates included Casey Martin and Notah Begay III. In fact, Begay and another teammate, Will Yanagisawa, are both in the field this week.
“Notah was in my wedding,” said Lanning of his former roommate. “He’s just one of my closest friends in my life. It’s just fun to have the three of us [in the field].”
After winning the 1994 NCAA title just before Tiger Woods arrived on campus that fall, fresh from winning the U.S. Amateur, Lanning returned to Florida.There, he met his wife, a Wisconsin native, and tried his hand at professional golf. He played various circuits, including the Canadian Tour, South American Tour and the NGA Hooters Tour. He saw players like future two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson hit one amazing shot after another and knew he wouldn’t be competing on the PGA Tour.
Seeking a new career direction, he enrolled at Denver Seminary and that led him to an assistant coaching position at the University of Oregon, where the head coach was Martin, his ex-college teammate. Martin was trying to land Clark, along with virtually every other Division I school, and Lanning accompanied his prized prospect on his recruiting trip to Eugene. Clark eventually signed with Oklahoma State, but Martin gained himself a new assistant for the 2011-12 season.
“At the time, I was getting my master’s in counseling at Denver Seminary,” he said, “and my intention was to be a guidance counselor at Valor Christian. That would have been my highest goal there. We went out for the visit … and Casey winds up hiring me.”
Lanning would help recruit many of the players who formed the 2016 NCAA title-winning team, including current PGA Tour pro Aaron Wise.
Loyola Marymount took notice and lured Lanning to be the Lions’ head coach. He loved the job, but his wife wanted to return to Wisconsin, so he resigned on “great terms” and accepted an assistant professional position at the Sand Valley Resort in Nekoosa, about 45 minutes from SentryWorld. But the job wasn’t financially prudent, and when the chance to return to Oregon arose in 2017, Lanning begged his wife to relocate once again.
That job opened because assistant John Ellis left to go caddie for, of all people, Wyndham Clark. When Clark’s mom passed away from breast cancer at 55, the golfer went through a difficult period and even contemplated quitting. Because of his previous relationship with Martin, he chose to transfer to Oregon for his final season of eligibility. Clark flourished for the Ducks, winning the 2017 Pacific-12 title, conference player-of-the-year honors and becoming a first-team All-American.
Lanning, however, just missed out getting the chance to coach him again.
“The cool thing was Wyndham would come back to Eugene multiple times [after turning pro] and we’d tee it up every time he came back,” said Lanning.” We had a great time talking about how our lives had crisscrossed and how I was just rooting him on at that point.”
Eventually, Wisconsin came calling again in 2021, and last year, Lanning decided to start his own business – Rise Up Golf – to help kids through the recruiting process. It’s less about swing and more about guidance, a career he always intended to follow before coaching sent him down an alternate path.
“I'm excited for the future,” he said. “It's fun to work with kids. It seems like I'm going back to that high school age, which to me is … [how] they really approach the game still with that innocence and just joy, and I'm helping them kind of put the pieces together and what it takes to be an elite, high-level tournament player.”
It also wouldn’t hurt if Lanning had a Wyndham Clark moment this week. His 19-year-old son, Gavin, is serving as his caddie, and the USGA bestowed him the honor of hitting the opening tee shot at 7 a.m. CDT on Thursday.
If the championship was being contested anywhere other than SentryWorld, Lanning admitted he might not be comfortable in his surroundings. But SentryWorld feels like home.
And who knows, maybe it will be Wyndham Clark who watches with amazement this weekend.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.