by Joshua Skinner
LOS ANGELES — There was a point when Joseph Bramlett wondered if he’d ever play golf again.
In 2002, at age 14, he became the youngest American to ever qualify for the U.S. Amateur team. He was a rising star on the amateur circuit and turned pro in 2010 after a stint playing at Stanford University.
Then disaster struck.
Bramlett lost four and a half years to a lower-back injury affecting everything from posture and trunk motion to nerve function and spinal curvature.
“This has always been my vision of myself,” Bramlett said. “But there were times when the injury got pretty bad, and I was crawling around my apartment. I couldn’t brush my teeth and couldn’t go about normal daily activities.”
Three years into his recovery, he — and those around him — seriously doubted he would ever return to the game he loved.
“There were some lingering doubts there,” Bramlett said. “There were some people that suggested I might not need to pursue this anymore.”
Now fully healthy, Bramlett is the first two-time recipient of the Charlie Sifford Exemption to play in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, which begins on Thursday. The exemption, started in 2009, is given each year by Tiger Woods to a person “representing a minority background to play in the annual PGA Tour event at Riviera.”
Bramlett also received the exemption in 2011, shooting a 149 over two days and missing the cut.
“It’s great seeing Joseph back on Tour,” Woods said in a press release. “The determination to rebuild his swing and regain his card shows the perseverance Charlie would have admired. I look forward to seeing Joseph at Riviera this year.”
Bramlett’s doubts, and the negative voices around him, have ceased. He spent the last two years refining his game on the Korn Ferry Tour, regaining his PGA Tour card in 2019.
“Playing on the Korn Ferry Tour for a few years has prepared me for my weekly schedule,” he said. “My daily schedule, understanding how to travel, and managing everything that comes with professional golf.”
Since getting his card back, Bramlett has been on the upswing.
He finished tied for 14th at The Military Tribute at Greenbriar in September and made the cut in six of the nine tournaments he has played since returning to the PGA Tour. In his most impressive outing since his return, Bramlett finished tied for 18th at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Sunday, coming in ahead of players like Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.
Despite playing well, Bramlett doesn’t have much experience at Riviera, which simplifies how he plans to play the course.
“I’m going to make as many birdies as I can,” he said. “I played here in 2011. That’s the only other time I’ve been here. The course is in amazing shape. I’m just excited to make some birdies.”
But in the grand scheme of Bramlett’s career, the Genesis Invitational is just another step in his comeback to playing the game he was always meant to play.
“I have a much greater appreciation than I ever did for being out here,” he said. “I’m at a point in my life where I’ve kind of had the game taken away from me, and now I can finally do what I love to do every single day again.”