Bryant, a Pinto Bean fixture

Tom Bryant lines up a putt on the Conquistador practice green. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Tom Bryant lines up a putt on the Conquistador practice green.

The 34th annual Pinto Bean Golf Classic is just around the corner (Aug. 17-18 at Conquistador Golf Course) and Old Tom Bryant is ready at the computer.

Since the tournament’s debut in 1979, Bryant, now 78 and still sporting a nifty 12.3 handicap index, has spearheaded the tasks involved in checking handicaps and setting up the pairings and tee times.

“It was much tougher back when the Pinto started,” he said. “Back then, we didn’t have computers. We did everything by hand. Now, the time-consuming part of it is putting the players in the computer. The tour players program we have then takes over and does a great job. It’s the same program they use on the PGA Tour.”

Still, Bryant could be found in the early evening hours of Saturday, July 13, during the Firecracker Tournament, glued to the computer in the pro shop putting in scores needed for the event’s skins games. Meanwhile, steaks were being consumed up at the Elk’s Lodge by tournament participants and supporters.

“Tommy, are you going to get something to eat?” someone called out.

“Naw, I’ve got work to do,” came the reply.

This is nothing new to Conquistador head pro Micah Rudosky, who has marveled for the better part of several decades at the volunteer spirit that is second nature to Bryant.

“Tommy actually does all our tournaments, the juniors, the men’s association, all of it,” Rudosky said. “He’s there anytime I need him. We have a great working relationship. He knows what he’s doing. He gets it right. I don’t have to look over his shoulder.

“I count on him every year, every tournament. I show up and he shows up, and that’s the way it is. I think he’s volunteered literally thousands of hours helping us with our tournaments over the years. He doesn’t seem to get tired. He’s an amazing guy.”

Bryant, who retired in 1999 after 29 years as a teacher and principal in Shiprock before serving seven more years as a counselor in Dove Creek, has been Cortez Elks Lodge secretary for the past four years, another volunteer job that requires robust attention to detail. He’s not complaining, however.

“I like to do the tournaments, and the Elks stuff, too,” he said. “I really enjoy it. But I guess I can’t go on forever. We’ve really got to train someone who’d like to take over for me someday on the tournaments. If someone out there is interested in learning, please contact me. I’d be happy to show them the ropes.”

Not that Bryant is planning on fading into the sunset anytime soon. He’s shot his age four times this year from the white tees at Conquistador, including one round of 76. And anyone familiar with the golf scene in Cortez knows that Old Tom is, and always has been, one gritty competitor.

“I think I learned how to compete when I played sports back in the 1950s at Navajo Mission (now Navajo Academy) in Farmington,” he said. “All of those kids, even today, are competitors that come out of there.”

Golf came somewhat naturally to Bryant, though he didn’t really settle into playing the game until he moved to Cortez in 1975. Throughout the years, he’s been the consummate gentleman on the course, remaining calm and resolute in the face of disappointments and bad breaks.

“My philosophy on golf is short and sweet,” he said. “If you can’t have fun, don’t play. And that fits a lot of things in life, but especially in golf.”

Bryant’s greatest test came in the mid-1980s while playing in an Elks calcutta tournament with a 10-handicap. He was sailing along through 10 holes at only one over par when it began to rain. After a muscle-stiffening delay of perhaps 40 minutes, he marched to the tee on No. 11 and promptly dumped six consecutive balls into the lake. There was no drop zone on the opposite side of the lake back then, meaning the golfer had no choice but to keep swinging from the tee-side of the water until one finally found dry land.

When his seventh try made it over the lake, he turned to his playing partners, flashed his patented What-Me-Worry smile and went on to score a 14 on the par-4 hole. Amazingly, however, he gathered himself and shot even par over the final seven holes, carding a pretty much incredible 83 for the day.

The Pinto Bean Classic fits Bryant’s eye.

“I really like it because it’s like a family reunion,” he said. “You meet guys, and they come back each year to see how you’re doing. It’s like (tournament sponsors) Rod and Jack Tanner say: It’s a golfing party. That’s the thing about the Pinto. If you’re not having fun, you’re not invited back.”

Bryant and Rod Tanner are the only two who have played in every single Pinto Bean Classic.

Bryant has won his flight once in the 250-player Pinto and has placed in the money numerous times.

And he’s surely collected more than his share of other local tournament titles in his 38 years in Cortez.

“You’ve got to keep cool,” he said. “Getting angry doesn’t help. A golfer has just got to keep trying on every shot and let the results speak for themselves.”