HAVEN, Wis. (AP) — Brad Bryant said he’s just lucky, and doesn’t belong in a group of players that includes Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino.
“Let’s face it guys, I’m not in their league. I wasn’t, and as far as golf goes, I never will be,” Bryant said. “I’m a journeyman that happened to have a really great week.”
Bryant shot a 68 on Sunday to finish 6-under and win the U.S. Senior Open at Whistling Straits to add his name to the silver cup that includes the names of Nicklaus, Palmer and Trevino after another great, Tom Watson, fell apart on the back nine. Ben Crenshaw finished second at 3-under and Loren Roberts was third at 2-under.
Bryant’s party plans on Monday are simple. He and about 20 guys from his church in Lakeland, Fla., will go to a sports bar and chow on chicken wings.
“If you don’t eat chicken wings, you don’t get to come, that’s the way it is,” said Bryant, who started the day five strokes behind Watson. “Guess who gets to buy for everybody? I do! And it will be a great celebration.”
On Sunday, Bryant, 52, stayed steady even after he bogeyed two holes on the back nine while Watson shot a 43 on the same side – including losing eight strokes on eight holes as part of the second-biggest collapse in U.S. Senior Open history.
“I just didn’t have it on the back nine,” Watson said. “I just put the ball in trouble way too many times to have a chance to win this golf tournament.”
Bryant only won once on the PGA Tour in a rain-shortened event in 1995 and retired unofficially in 1999. In the meantime, he looked for someone who might help him get back to the pro ranks, a caddie who would help level his self-deprecating opinion of his game.
Bryant even prayed for one, and four years ago in a parking lot outside a Nationwide Tour event in Greenville, S.C. he found Tony Smith, who is superstitious enough to wear sneakers with pictures of $100 bills on them only on Sundays.
“Brad is a great golfer, but he’s a much better person than he is a golfer,” Smith said. “When he plays bad sometimes, I tell him, ‘You’re not a robot, Brad. Your heart is too good. You’re going to play bad sometimes, and just take the bitter with the sweet.”’
In the years since, Bryant has resurrected his career, winning two Champions Tour events in 2006 and one more this year before the U.S. Senior Open. He credits Smith, along with his family, as his driving force.
“If it weren’t for Tony, I promise you I wouldn’t be here right now,” said Bryant, who earned $470,000 for the victory. “It’s fun to win golf tournaments and the money is great, but when you have good friends – if you ever run out of money and you have good friends, your friends will feed you. Well, I’ve got great friends and I’ve got a great family and Tony is one of the closest.”
Bryant, the only player in the tournament to score rounds of par or better each day, said he was fortunate that both Watson and Roberts, who came into Sunday three shots behind Watson, played poorly.
“It was really scripted for Tom Watson,” Bryant said. “The winds, the heat, it was really his day.”
The winds whipped up for the second straight day to hold scores down at the knobby course that sits on the bluffs of Lake Michigan about an hour north of Milwaukee, and the southwest winds sent temperatures soaring into the 90s.
It certainly appeared that Watson would finally win after falling short in his previous seven attempts.
He shot 1-under on the front nine before beginning the final stretch with a birdie to go to 9-under for the tournament.
But then came the collapse, as Watson frittered away eight strokes over eight holes, a stretch that included three double-bogeys, with terrible drives and poor course management.
“I hit the ball in the rough too many times, and today I got my just reward,” said Watson, who finished with a 78 to end the tournament in fourth at 1-under.
Bryant, playing three groups ahead of Watson, said he had no idea he’d taken the lead, but knew he was close when he played No. 18.
“I asked Brad down the 18th fairway if he wanted to know how he stood, and he said ‘Yes.’ I told him, ‘You’re three shots clear,”’ Smith said. “That basically just freed him up to get the ball anywhere on the green and the tournament was over.”
Divots: Bryant was one of only five players to shoot under par Sunday. Only Bryant, Crenshaw, Roberts and Watson finished under par for the tournament. … George Zahringer’s 69 on Sunday was the only round under par by an amateur. … Eduardo Romero, the first-round leader, played No. 18 at 5-over for the tournament, while playing the rest of the course at par. Those strokes cost him at least $50,000 in prize winnings.