Bryan and Bryce Kendrick entered the 19th annual National Father & Son Team Classic presented by PGA Tour Superstore having won two of the past three titles.
But a new challenge awaited the Knoxville, Tenn., duo this year.
It wasn’t a domestic threat – instead an international one.
The Grand Strand tournament, which featured 316 teams this year, and the European Father & Son Golf Championship offer free reciprocal entries to their champions.
The 2015 European champions took advantage of the opportunity. So Gary Milliner, a 53-year-old golf instructor from Hamburg, Germany, and 19-year-old son Justin, who recently graduated from Germany’s equivalent of high school, competed and gave the Kendricks all they could handle.
The Milliners had a two-shot lead with nine holes to play in an alternate shot format at Thistle Golf Club on Saturday before the Kendricks rallied to win by three and earn their third title in the past four years.
“It was the European champions versus the American champions, so that really made it a special thing for us,” said Bryan, a 60-year-old accountant. “And they’re really nice gentlemen. It was nice to get to know them and play against them.”
The Kendricks keep getting better, as they have matched or bettered their total score in each of the past three years. They were 21-under par in both 2013 and ’14, 25 under last year when they won by 10 shots, and shot a 26-under 189 this year. They shot a 14-under 58 Thursday in a scramble format at the Grande Dunes Resort Course, 6-under 66 in a best ball format Friday at Shaftesbury Glen Golf & Fish Club, and 6-under 65 Saturday at Thistle Golf Club.
“We got down here and heard the Milliners were here and we knew that would sort of be the competition,” said Bryce, 22, who recently completed his senior year on the Tennessee Tech golf team. “We started off hot again, but so did they.”
The Kendricks held a one-shot lead after the first round and were tied with the Milliners after the second round. “It was much more satisfying just because of the competition,” Bryan said.
The two contending teams weren’t playing together but were following scores on the tournament’s live phone app, so the Kendricks knew they were trailing by two shots with nine holes to play. “We were sitting in the cart trying to figure out how we were going to make them up,” Bryce said.
They played the final nine holes 3 under, making birdies on their 11th hole – a 185-yard par-3 – their par-5 12th hole and their par-4 15th hole. “We sort of got on a roll where I was hitting really good iron shots in and he was putting the ball,” Bryan said.
The Milliners three-putted from inside 10 feet for a bogey on their 10th hole. “We lost a bit of momentum after that and we saw those guys were playing really good and we just couldn’t keep up with them,” said Gary, whose previous visits to the U.S. were for golf trips to Florida.
“It was good fun,” Gary continued. “I think Myrtle Beach is a great place. I think it’s fantastic for golf. It’s been fantastic, a great experience. We’d obviously do it again if we have the chance, but we have to win again next year and beat these boys first, which could be a problem.”
The two teams will have an opportunity to compete again from Oct. 24-29 in the European Father-Son in Cadiz Andalucia, Spain.
The Kendricks have competed in the European Father-Son once, in 2013, and finished 11th. Bryce had a conflicting event with his college golf team last year.
“It’s going to be fun going overseas again and hopefully get a little revenge,” Bryce said. “We didn’t play very well last time over there so we’ll try to pick it up a little bit this year.”
The Kendricks have played in five Father & Son tournaments, including the past four. They finished second by two strokes in 2014 to Phillip and Josh Radcliff of Coppell, Texas.
“It’s fun. The people back at home ask us, ‘When is your tournament? When is your tournament?’ ” Bryce said. “… So it’s almost added pressure. You’ve won, and you’re expected to win again.”
Bryce is returning to school to earn his Masters in Business Administration by the end of next summer before making a decision on a potential pro golf career. He will be a graduate assistant in intramural golf at Tennessee Tech as he pursues his MBA, and he’ll assist the men’s golf team and have access to the college’s facilities and golf course. He has the Tennessee state amateur and amateur match play coming up this summer.
After working with instructor Brad Rose, who instructs PGA Tour pros Eric Axley and Scott Stallings, Bryce now works with instructor and former PGA Tour member Jake Reeves, who also works with PGA Tour winner Peter Malnati.
How much longer will they try to dominate the tournament? “We had said this year if we don’t win it then he’ll be turning pro and we probably won’t come back because the money will be better spent with him trying to play,” said Bryan, whose son, Brett, is a left tackle on the University of Tennessee football team. “So we’ll come back next year and then we’ll see what his career does. It will be dependent on that, plus we’ll see how much longer daddy’s 60-year-old nerves can take the stress of this stuff.”
Winning the second annual and 18-team Father & Daughter Team Classic that concluded Friday were Richard Spangler of Hixson, Tenn., and Ashley Spangler of Atlanta with a two-day total of 128 in best ball and scramble formats. Joan and Tracie Martin of Elkton, Md., won the two-team Mother-Daughter competition with a 175.