Diane Mastrull: From in the rough, hitting green at Merion

Janis and Tony McBryan - who had been laid off and was in a bad way when he made his call to Merion - display the blanket featuring the U.S. Open logo.
Janis and Tony McBryan - who had been laid off and was in a bad way when he made his call to Merion - display the blanket featuring the U.S. Open logo. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 11, 2013

Editor's Note: This column is sponsored by TD Bank. The opinions and analysis expressed here reflect the views of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of TD Bank, N.A. or its affiliates.

This week, when the U.S. Open returns to Merion after 32 years, Tony McBryan will have an especially profound reason for celebrating the exclusive golf club:

Its pro-shop operators took a chance on his blankets.

That was in January 2009, when McBryan got up the nerve to walk into the upscale store near the 18th hole and managed to sell the manager, the head golf professional, and an assistant pro on the idea of letting him incorporate the club's distinctive logo - a flagstick topped with a red wicker basket - on cotton blankets designed by him and his wife, Janis.

The visit was a life-changer. A foot in such a prestigious golf-world door opened many others.

Today, Custom Made Comfort L.L.C., based at the McBryans' home in Jamison, Bucks County, has product in 200 country clubs in 15 states, with more expected. And in a real golfing high, its blankets featuring the logo for the U.S. Open at Merion are available on the U.S. Golf Association's website, USGAshop.com.

"That's pretty unbelievable," McBryan, 53, said in an interview last week.

The textile engineer was in a desperate way when he made his cold call to Merion's pro shop just three months after being laid off by a company he had served for 28 years selling, installing, and servicing commercial knitting machines.

On his drive to Merion, McBryan said, thoughts of his two kids in college and other bills propelled him. He recalled thinking: "I have nothing to lose by driving up this driveway. I have to eat."

By then, Custom Made Comfort had been designing blankets, made at a mill in Newark, N.J., for some area high schools. McBryan brought one to Merion. Chandler Withington, then the club's first assistant pro, was instantly hooked, he said last week from Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., where he currently is head pro.

"I thought it was a unique product," said Withington, noting that when it comes to golf souvenirs "everyone's already got five jackets or a sleeve of golf balls."

He was impressed with McBryan: "Tony's a very passionate guy. I'm usually looking to work with someone who is passionate about their product."

He said he will be ordering blankets from the McBryans for the fall - and, after that, for another big-deal event in golf, the Ryder Cup, which Hazeltine will host in 2016.

McBryan has never played a single hole at Merion - though he did sled on its east course as a kid growing up in Narberth. He credits his best friend at Archbishop Carroll High School, Brendan FitzPatrick, with inspiring him to look beyond schools for customers.

FitzPatrick, a Berwyn resident who coached football at Episcopal Academy and now coaches middle school wrestling and teaches fourth grade there, saw the McBryans' school blankets and immediately thought of Merion, where he is a lifetime member.

"I said, 'There's a different market. Why don't you try that?' " FitzPatrick recalled, declining to take any credit for the growth that Custom Made Comfort has experienced since then. "I just gave him the idea. He went and did it."

Custom Made Comfort's offerings have grown to include tote bags, accessory pouches, pillows, and beach blankets. Its customer base has expanded to 45 high schools in five states, six yacht clubs, and two stores at the Shore.

Sales of the blankets - priced at $95 to $145, depending on who is selling them - doubled from 2011 to 2012, and are on track to do that this year.

"I'm psyched," said McBryan, who caddies on weekends and does odd jobs to help with cash flow. His wife works on blanket designs and occasionally makes candy and biscotti for sale.

The couple met in high school and celebrated their 30th anniversary Tuesday. To help meet expenses, they sold their Newtown home in July 2011, a topic that caused Tony McBryan to choke up in the interview. They now rent a townhouse, and travel extensively in search of new customers.

"While we really don't get to take a vacation, we get to visit a lot of nice places," Janis McBryan said, chuckling.

Their goal is to have employees by this time next year, and to build their own product line for sale at www.custommadecomfort.com. Items made for schools and golf clubs are available only wholesale.

Despite its inclusion in USGAshop.com, Custom Made Comfort did not make the cut at Merion for this week's Open. Its blankets will not be available for sale in the merchandise pavilion, which a USGA licensing manager attributed to limited space.

Tony McBryan will be on the course anyway - as a volunteer marshal.


Diane Mastrull:

Additional U.S. Open Coverage: All eyes on Merion and premier event, Sports Section


Diane Mastrull: >Inquirer.com

Learn more about how the McBryans developed the idea for their blankets. Go to

www.inquirer.com/blankets


Contact Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466, dmastrull@phillynews.com or @dmastrull on Twitter.

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