Bart Bryant had to wait nearly two decades to win the PGA Tour, enduring injuries and multiple trips to Q-School before handing Tiger Woods the biggest defeat of his career.
Bryant had considered leaving the game after a shoulder injury knocked him out of the tour in the early ’90s, but his perseverance paid off with three wins after he turned 40. TOUR’s biggest event, the TOUR Championship and Memorial Tournament presented by Workday.
Bryant died Tuesday in a car accident at the age of 59. His first wife, Cathy, preceded him in death. She died in 2017 of brain cancer, 11 months after her diagnosis.
He is survived by his wife, Donna, daughters Kristen and Michelle, and children. His brother, Brad, is also a former tour winner.
“The PGA Tour is saddened by the tragic death of Bart Bryant and our thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan. “The Bryants has been part of the PGA TOUR family for over four decades, and we are grateful for the impact and legacy he has made on our organization and countless communities. We will miss BART very much.”
Bart Bryant was 41 years old with only six major medical extensions left when he arrived at La Cantera Golf Club in 2004 for the Valero Texas Open. The third round gave him a 60 3-shot lead over Hunter Mahan, and Bryant maintained that advantage with a score of 67 on Sunday. The win came on his 187th debut on the PGA Tour.
“No course makes a career,” said Bryant, who was born in Gatesville, Texas, but grew up in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where the Bryant brothers dominated middle and high school golf. “This is just the beginning, that’s what I’d like to think about.”
He was right. The following year, Bryant accepted a Jack Nicklaus trophy, beat two world-class golfers, finished in the top 10 on the money list, and cracked the top 25 in the world rankings.
Bryant had already won the Nicklaus Memorial Championships when he arrived at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta in 2005 for his TOUR debut. He started the week with a record 62 and earned at least a share of the lead after all rounds.
Bryant won six shots at East Lake to earn the biggest paycheck of his career. Tiger Woods, winner of two majors that year, finished second. It’s the furthest Woods has ever scored in a tournament as he was the runner-up. Woods could drive it 50 yards past Bryant, but the veteran overcame Woods’ powerful advantage by hitting the ball with precision, leading the field in both driving accuracy and the greens in regulation.
“I definitely don’t put myself in the same category as Ritiv (Gosen), Vijay (Singh), Davis Love and Tiger Woods,” Bryant said. “I mean, these guys are the elite players in the world. … But I discovered that if I was at the top of my game under the right conditions, I could definitely compete with these guys.”
Bryant beat one of the game’s stars, Fred Couples, earlier that year to win the memorial at Muirfield Village Golf Club. This win required more drama than the one in East Lake. Having taken the lead with a birdie at 17, Bryant drove into danger on the last hole and had to make a 15-foot shot to defeat the pairs by one. Woods tied for the third, four shots back.
Bryant’s success in his forties was the fruit of incredible perseverance, 19 years after the preacher’s son turned professional in 1986 from New Mexico, where he was an all-American twice. Bryant graduated from Q-School six times, first time in 1990. He ranked 124th on the money list in his rookie year before a shoulder injury derailed him in the 1992 season. His game worsened to the point that he considered quitting.
He was out and on the Tour for the next decade, playing only six full seasons between 1991 and 2003 and topping the Top 125 on the money list just once.
“Things got so bad in the mid-’90s that I didn’t even bother going to qualifying school,” Bryant said after his East Lake victory. “As long as I was able to feed my family with what I was doing on the small tour, I was fine.”
When he won the Texas Open, he was the biggest winner for the first time on the tour in nine years.
Bart’s older brother, Brad, who took his only tour win in 1995 at the Walt Disney World/Oldsmobile Classic, was 18th when Bart won for the first time, making them the 12th group of brothers to win the PGA Tour.
“I think that’s bigger for me than it was when I won,” Brad Bryant said of his brother’s victory. “He has been through a lot, and he is persevering. For our family, this is very big.”
They both won the PGA TOUR Champions, too. Bart won the DICK’S Sporting Goods Open in both 2013 and 2018, while Brad’s four wins included the 2007 US Open. Bart also teamed with Ian Baker-Finch to win the Raphael division at the 2013 Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf.
After his career year in 2005, Bart Bryant was only posting seven of his other top 10 players on TOUR as injuries that delayed his success soon took him away. He finished runner-up to Jim Furyek at the 2006 RBC Canadian Open and Woods at the Arnold Palmer Invitational 2008 presented by Mastercard, which was Woods’ fifth consecutive TOUR win. Woods had to sink 24 feet into the last hole to do so.
“I’m lucky to get up there and compete with him now and then,” Bryant said.
And he beats him up for waiting patiently for his chance.
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