Brad Bryant thought he might be good enough to make a living at golf, and Bart took up the game to be like his big brother. They played on a nine-hole course in New Mexico until it was too dark to see, and sometimes they slept under the stars near the swimming pool at Alamagordo Country Club so they could move the sprinklers around the golf course.
This was before they had automatic sprinkling systems. We did a lot of that, Brad said. We moved sprinklers in the middle of the night and mowed the greens and helped mow the fairways. And it was a pretty cool time.
This is a pretty special time, too.
The Bryant brothers'separated by eight years, linked by their well-kept moustaches and plain style'are the first brothers to compete in the U.S. Open since Jay and Jerry Haas in 2002 at Bethpage Black.
Just like the old days, it was little brother doing all he could to join the party.
Brad Bryant, 53, went 474 starts on the PGA Tour before winning at Disney for his only victory. He hasnt played the U.S. Open since 1996 at Oakland Hills and figured he had seen his last major championship. Then he rallied from five shots behind on the final day at Whistling Straits last year to capture the U.S. Senior Open, earning an exemption to Torrey Pines.
This is quite a gift at a late age to be playing in this event, he said. I really thought that my days of playing in major events were over. We have majors on the Champions Tour, but theyre just kind of big tournaments for old people.
Bart Bryant, now 45, turned out to be the more successful of the two.
He endured endless surgeries and trips to the minor leagues until he broke through with his first PGA Tour victory in 2004 at the Texas Open, then followed with victories in the Memorial and Tour Championship, beating Tiger Woods by six shots in the latter.
His game slipped for a couple of years, enough to knock him out of the top 50, and even a runner-up finish to Woods at the Arnold Palmer Invitational wasnt enough to get a free pass to the U.S. Open.
He didnt like the idea of qualifying'except that big brother was going to be playing.
I didnt know if I could even walk 36 holes, but it ended up being a really good day, Bart said of his qualifier, where he finished second to easily make it. Its only been a week or so that Ive known that I would be playing, but its been really exciting.
The Bryants are sons of a Baptist minister, who spent his afternoons teaching them to play. As they grew older and followed their dreams to the PGA Tour, they leaned on each other in hard times.
Bart had every reason to quit golf after injuries to his left rotator cuff, left elbow and right elbow, and seemingly endless trips to the minor leagues to support his family.
Phone calls from big brother kept him going.
The fact that he said, Bart, you have the talent, youre good enough to play on the PGA Tour, I really believe that that may not sound like a lot to you guys, but for me, that was everything, he said. Because I really doubted at times that I had the ability to compete with these guys out here. To hear it from somebody I admire, that meant something to me.
Little brother returned the favor.
Brad was struggling with his putter when Bart persuaded him to try the claw putting grip, which changed everything. Brad made it through Champions Tour qualifying school and now has made over $4 million to go along with four victories on the senior circuit.
They also have been called by the others names, which was annoying to Brad when he was winning on the Champions Tour and to Bart when he was winning on the PGA TOUR.
And it didnt stop at the U.S. Open.
Bart Bryant was the first to register at Torrey Pines, getting his parking pass and ID badge.
Of course, mine said, Brad Bryant. And I didnt notice it for an hour, he said. I took it back in and said, It doesnt bother me, but when Brad gets here, hell probably want his own.
They managed to play six holes together in a practice round, and Bart Bryant wondered why the USGA didnt bother putting them together for the first two rounds. After all, the USGA went out of its way to put Woods and Phil Mickelson in the same group.
No matter. Theyre at Torrey Pines for a U.S. Open, a long road for both that converged in a most unlikely place.
This may very well be the last time we get to do something this special, Brad said, as far as golf goes.