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A Quick 9: Bart Bryant

Last year at The Memorial, Bart Bryant seized the lead with a birdie on the 71st hole, then parred the final hole to win by one shot over some of the top-ranked golfers in the world. At the time, it marked his second career victory (he also won the 2004 Valero Texas Open). He capped off last season with a win at THE TOUR Championship. We caught up with Bart recently for a Quick 9 as he prepares to defend this week at The Memorial.

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Bart Bryant, Defending Champion, The Memorial

1. How does it feel to come back here as defending champion?
BB:
It's hard to believe that a year has gone by. It seems like yesterday. I drove out here and got back on the course, and it seemed like it just happened. I hate to know that next week I may no longer have the title defending champion, but my goal is to retain it. I've really enjoyed being called the reigning champion of the Memorial Tournament. That carries a lot of weight.

2. You were tied for the lead entering the final round last year. How nervous were you going to bed that night?
BB:
To be honest, I thought I might just throw my guts out, let them leak into the river on #17. I mean, laying in my bed the night before, it was just a total mystery to me - would I go out and be confident, trust my swing, trust my putting stroke, or would I just get so nervous I couldn't play? I didn't know. But I was trying to just rely on past experience. I've been through the Tour school, and I'll tell you what, talk about pressure. The night before the final round of Tour School - that's rougher than anything I've ever been through. I had that experience to look back on and I was able to fight off the demons there, and again when I won the Valero Texas Open, so I was hoping I would do the same at The Memorial.

I think being tied with three other guys last year (David Toms, Fred Couples, Jeff Sluman) took a little bit of the pressure off, too. Of all the guys at the top, I was probably the underdog, the one least expected to do well. So the limelight and pressure may have been tougher on some of the other guys.

3. Did you stick to your normal pre-round warm-up entering the final round? And if so, what is it?
BB:
The main thing for me is to be rested, so I try to do most of my preparations before I even get to the course. It really starts a couple days before the tournament, even if I'm playing in the pro-am. I try to get myself rested for the week, physically and mentally. That's important for me. On the actual day that I play, I go through a routine and it is exactly the same every time, especially if I'm leading a tournament like last year. I get to the course about an hour and a half before my tee time, do all my lockerroom preparation and when I get to the practice tee, which I do before the putting green, I'll hit about 20 wedge shots, about six 7-irons, six 4-irons, two rescue clubs, two 3-woods, two drivers, then about fifteen shots with my SW and LW, then one more 6-iron and then I'll go to the putting green for about 10 minutes before my tee time. That's what I do every single day when I play.

I don't know how I fell into that routine, but I've been doing it for about five years. Maybe I did it one day and played well, I don't know. For some reason that's what I do now so my caddy knows exactly what club to hand me out on the range, when we're getting there and when we're leaving.

4. You're now a three-time winner on the PGA TOUR, including THE TOUR Championship and Memorial last year. What do you do to stay consistent as a player at the highest level?
BB:
Nutrition, fitness and developing a practice routine are important, but, as I said before, staying rested is extremely important. If I get tired or fatigued, it's hard for me to maintain that high level of play so that's probably the most important thing for me. So for me, that might mean on a Wednesday after I'm done with the pro-am, even if I didn't play particularly well, I might go see a movie instead of going to the range and hitting ball for two hours. I'll go away and think about my form and think about I'm doing and then come back the next morning with a fresh perspective. Instead of beating my brains in on something that may not be real effective, I like to take a step back, let my body rest and then go back out refreshed the next day.

5. You mentioned how important nutrition and hydration is out on the course. What do you eat and/or drink while you're out on the course?
BB:
I usually eat a couple of granola bars - one usually on the 10th tee and then one in the middle of the back nine. I usually stay away from fruit, believe it or not. For some reason, a granola bar or some type of power bar works better for me. I do drink a lot of water while I'm out there and I've become very cognizant over the last few years that I need to do that. It's extremely important to stay hydrated out there, but as far as nutrition goes, off the course, I may be the wrong guy to talk to. I spend a lot of time at Whataburger!

6. This could be the wrong question coming off your last answer, but how important is it to work out and exercise to stay competitive on the PGA TOUR?
BB:
It is very important. That being said, I'm 42 so I'm kind of from the old school. When I was coming up in the game, working out was taboo because people thought it messed up their golf swing so it's kind of hard for me to really get into working out at this point. I'm trying to get better at it, as well as improving my nutrition because I realize it's only going to become more and more important out here. There's a new standard for working out and being healthy on Tour. All the young guys coming out of college are working out and really seem to watch what they eat. They all have dieticians that work with them.

7. You play in a lot of pro-ams throughout the year. What's the number one swing fault you see in the amateurs you play with and what advice do you give them?
BB:
The biggest difference I see between the pros and the amateurs is balance. The pros tend to swing by switching their weight to the right side and then back to their left side as they hit the ball. What I see with the amateurs is a classic reverse pivot. They'll go to their left side on the back swing and then swing back to their right side on their downswing. They really don't get a true weight shift when they do that and it puts the club under and behind you.

To try to help them get out of that, I try to explain how the weight shift is similar to throwing a baseball. You shift your weight back on your right side and then move to your left, you don't start on your left and then shift back to the right.

8. Is there one swing tip someone gave you along the way that maybe you go back to when you're struggling? BB: I used to to really straighten my right leg on my backswing which is not good. If you look at some of the best players in the world, especially their right leg, you'll see it stays very stationary. All their weight winds around their right hip and right leg. As soon as that moves, you move your spine angle. But that's how I learned to play, by straightening that right leg. When I got to high school and college someone told me you have to got to get control of that right leg. Sometimes I still find myself looking down and seeing that right leg move all around so I go back to that all the time and will spend a couple of hours a week just solely thinking about my right knee and my right leg and keeping it very still.

9. A lot of people in sports talk about being "in the zone." Have you ever been there and can you describe it?
BB:
Certainly. There have been numerous rounds where I felt like I couldn't do anything wrong. It's pretty incredible to have that feeling and be in the zone. There's just no fear - all you see is the pin or the middle of the fairway. Your concentration is great. Trying to replicate that is the hard part. It seems like the harder you try to get in the zone, it's almost impossible to get there, but sometimes you just find yourself in it. I think during those times you just need to let yourself be in it.

There are a few times I think I've been in it, including last year during my wins. But more than the wins, I think it's rounds of golf where you just shoot incredibly low. I think I've had 60 three times, only once on the Tour, a couple of 61's in mini-Tour events. So I've felt like I've been in the zone for a day, but it's harder to stay in for much longer than that. When I won in Texas and last year at the Memorial and TOUR Championship, I felt very patient and very confident coming down the stretch in all of those tournaments. I think in some way I might have been in the zone at that time but not really known it.

I know there have been a lot of studies on "the zone," how to get in it and how to stay in it. If they can ever figure it out and put it in a pill, I'll certainly buy some!

NOW A QUICKER NINE...

1. Favorite Tour stop:
Columbus, OH (The Memorial)

2. First car and current car:
My first car was a Ford Fairmont my parents gave me. It lasted about three years before it totally broke down. Now I drive an Acura MDX.

3. Favorite movie:
The Jerk, Father of the Bride. I have a 17-year old daughter so that one brings a tear to my eye. I really like Steve Martin so if he comes out with something I usually go see it. We spend a lot of time on the road so see quite a few movies.

4. Did you splurge on anything after your first win?
It's funny, Mark Brooks asked me that same question after I won the Valero Texas Open. I said I got my first pair of Johnston & Murphy's. You can't dress me up, but at least I tried.

5. Do you have any superstitions or any routines you have to follow?
Not really, although I do carry a quarter, two dimes, and a penny to mark my ball with. I've always done that and I don't know why.

6. Are there any numbered golf balls you won't play with?
For a while, it seemed like everytime I played with 1's I played terrible so I went for about six months where I didn't use 1's. Then I ran out of balls and had to use 1's and played okay, so they were back in the bag.

7. When did you begin to think professional golf was a possibility for you?
My older brother Brad (they called him Dr. Dirt) played on the PGA TOUR. He's now playing on the Champions Tour but when he was on Tour, I was probably in ninth grade, that's when I started to take golf seriously. I loved basketball and played up until the tenth grade but just wasn't good enough to make it in basketball. When I saw Brad make it on the Tour, I thought maybe that's something I can do. So I worked really hard at golf and luckily followed in the footsteps of my brother. Whether he liked it or not, I don't know but I certainly owe a lot to him for paving the way for me.

8. Your brother is about eight or nine years older than you. How influential was Brad on your career?
I think he's been very influential on my career, from helping me with my swing to helping me understand the mental side of the game to providing me a way to actually play the game. My wife and I were stuck out in New Mexico and really didn't have anywhere to go and he said 'come to Florida, live with us, play the mini-tours and work on your game.' If he hadn't done that I don't know that I'd be playing golf today. He's helped my wife and I immensely and, for me, he's helped me so much in my career that I know I wouldn't have made it out here if it weren't for Brad.

9. Have you had any interesting experiences playing with celebrities?
It's funny you ask. My rookie year on Tour was 1991, which was also the first year Bill Murray played at the AT&T in Pebble Beach. We were paired together for three rounds and it was pretty comical. Of course the next year Bill moved up into the celebrity category but I played with him for three days and it is a memory that I wouldn't trade. Even though I missed the cut by a shot, it was worth it.

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