Nearing 50, Brian Gay prepares to defend in Bermuda
October 27, 2021
By Jim McCabe, PGATOUR.COM
- Brian Gay aims to repeat at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
HAMILTON, Bermuda – Afternoon sun was starting to pop out from beneath a thick blanket of clouds Wednesday afternoon, a welcomed sight after overnight rain and heavy morning wind had brought the Butterfield Bermuda Open to a halt.
With the pro-am canceled and Port Royal Golf Course closed, it had been standing room only most of the morning at The Duchess café, inside the Fairmont Hamilton Princess lobby. But now, “Bermy,” as the natives love to call their home, was starting to get its shine back, comfortable warmth enveloped the island, and the buses and ferries were running to Port Royal.
The course was still closed for maintenance, but the range and putting green were opened and so the lobby was bustling with players, caddies, and golf bags, everyone seemingly in pursuit of transportation.
Yet a glance over the left shoulder offered a glimpse of the most veteran of all the competitors in this week’s field. Brian Gay had a range session on his mind and a golf bag over his left shoulder, but why?
The man who this week will be teeing it up in his 629th PGA TOUR tournament and whose 50th birthday will be in about six weeks smiled. “Because I haven’t hit a ball since Saturday,” he said.
“That’s the longest time I’ve gone without hitting a ball before a tournament. It’s not normal for me.”
Understood, and with that, Gay hustled to get a bus.
But the thought occurs that here in Bermuda, Gay has mastered the art of “not normal” and harken back to a year ago for definitive proof. It’s rare for 48-year-olds to win on the PGA TOUR, especially those who are relatively short of today’s supreme power, and most definitely those who have missed the cut in nine of their previous 11 starts over a period of five months.
Ah, but when Gay stuffed an approach to the 72nd hole and tapped in for birdie to force a playoff, then made a 10-foot birdie putt on that same hole a few minutes later to beat Wyndham Clark, arguably one of the PGA TOUR’s most unheralded success stories had registered his fifth career win, albeit for a variety of reasons that were “not normal.”
“This is absolutely insane,” Gay told The Golf Channel that Sunday after his 7-under 64 in the final round included birdies on six of his last 10 holes. “I’ve been playing awful, and it’s been a struggle.”
Indeed, Gay had missed the cut in his first two starts to the 2020-21 season. He had missed the cut in seven of nine starts to end the 2019-20 campaign. No one could have blamed him if he surrendered to the background and waited for that first tee time on the PGA TOUR Champions, except that like just about anyone who has fallen in love with Bermuda, Gay feels rejuvenated down here.
“I don’t mind the wind and Bermuda grass is something I grew up on,” said Gay. “And (Port Royal), it’s not a bomber’s course; you don’t necessarily have to hit it far and there are plenty of birdie opportunities.”
He had finished third in the debut of the Butterfield Bermuda Championship in 2019, so the comfort factor was there. As for his assessment of what’s ahead when he plays Port Royal, give Gay high marks. It rewards his precision, doesn’t penalize his “shortness,” and ample scoring opportunities are there. Consider: Gay has made two eagles and 44 birdies in two starts here, good for 33 under and a 66.9 scoring average.
Head coach Buddy Alexander called Gay a “quiet leader” back in 1993 when the University of Florida won the NCAA Championship, and that label can be applied all these many years later.
Twenty-two uninterrupted years on TOUR speaks volumes for his consistency. Only once has he played fewer than 20 tournaments in a year, 11 times he has played in more than 30, and while a long line of bigger, stronger, and more talented players have exploded on the scene, Gay has carved out a splendid career.
Quietly, of course.