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 quitting the game after a shoulder injury sent him off the TOUR in the early ’90s but his perseverance paid off with three victories after he turned 40. Two of those wins came in his career year of 2005 when he won two of the TOUR’s biggest events, 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 passed away in 2017 from brain cancer, 11 months after her diagnosis.
He is survived by wife Donna, daughters Kristen and Michelle and his stepchildren. His brother, Brad, is also a former TOUR winner.
“The PGA TOUR is saddened by the tragic passing of Bart Bryant and our hearts go out to his family and friends during this difficult time,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan. “The Bryants have been a 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. Bart will be dearly missed. “
Bart Bryant was 41 years old and had just six starts remaining on a major medical extension when he arrived at LaCantera Golf Club in 2004 for the Valero Texas Open. A third-round 60 gave him a three-shot lead over Hunter Mahan, and Bryant maintained that advantage with a 67 on Sunday. The win came in his 187th start on the PGA TOUR.
“One tournament doesn’t make a career,” said Bryant, who was born in Gatesville, Texas, but grew up in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where the Bryant brothers dominated junior and high school golf. “This is just the beginning, that’s what I’d like to think.”
He was right. The next year, Bryant accepted a trophy from Jack Nicklaus, beat two World Golf Hall of Famers, finished in the top 10 on the money list and cracked the top 25 in the world ranking.
Bryant had already won Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament when he arrived at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club in 2005 for his TOUR Championship debut. He started the week with a course-record 62 and held at least a share of the lead after every rounds.
Bryant won by six shots at East Lake to collect the biggest paycheck of his career. Tiger Woods, winner of two majors that year, finished second. It is the furthest back Woods has ever finished in a tournament where he was the runner-up. Woods could drive it 50 yards past Bryant, but the veteran overcame Woods’ power advantage with pinpoint ballstriking, leading the field in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation.
“I certainly don’t put myself in the same category as Retief (Goosen) and Vijay (Singh) and Davis Love and Tiger Woods,” Bryant said. “I mean, these guys are the elite players in the world. … But I have found out that if I’m on top of my game under the right conditions, I can definitely compete with these guys. ”
Bryant beat another 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 at East Lake. After taking the lead with a birdie on 17, Bryant drove into a hazard on the final hole and had to make a 15-foot par putt to beat Couples by one. Woods tied for third, four shots back.
Bryant’s success in his 40s was the fruit of incredible perseverance, coming 19 years after the preacher’s son turned pro in 1986 out of New Mexico State, where he was a two-time All-American. Bryant graduated Q-School a half-dozen times, the first coming in 1990. He finished 124th on the money list in his rookie year before a shoulder injury derailed his 1992 season. His game got so bad that he considered quitting.
He was off and on the TOUR for the next decade, playing just six full seasons between 1991 and 2003 and cracking the top 125 on the money list just once.
“Things got so bad in the mid ’90s that I never bothered going to qualifying school,” Bryant said after his win at East Lake. “As long as I was able to feed my family on what I was doing on the mini-tour, I was OK.”
When he won the Texas Open, he was the oldest first-time winner on the TOUR in nine years.
Bart’s older brother, Brad, who earned his lone TOUR win at the 1995 Walt Disney World / Oldsmobile Classic, was at the 18th green when Bart won for the first time, making them the 12th set of brothers to win on the PGA TOUR.
“I think this is bigger for me than when I won,” Brad Bryant said of his brother’s victory. “He’s been through so much, and he’s persevered. For our family, this is so big. ”
They both won on PGA TOUR Champions, as well. Bart won the DICK’S Sporting Goods Open in both 2013 and 2018, while Brad’s four wins included the 2007 US Senior Open. Bart also paired with Ian Baker-Finch to win the Raphael Division in the 2013 Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf.
After his career year in 2005, Bart Bryant would post just seven more top-10s on TOUR as the injuries that delayed his success quickly took it from him. He did finish runner-up to Jim Furyk at the 2006 RBC Canadian Open and Woods at the 2008 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, which was Woods’ fifth consecutive win on TOUR. Woods had to sink a 24-foot birdie putt on the final hole to do it, however.
“I’m lucky to get up there and compete with him every now and then,” Bryant said.
And beat him, the reward for patiently waiting for his opportunity.