Dec 01, 2010

Lookaway GC’s Michael Brown comes up clutch for first POY honor

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Player of the Year

Article available in the Winter issue of the GAP Magazine.

  Michael Brown of Lookaway Golf Club emerged as a viable William Hyndman, III Player of the Year candidate at the 106th Open Championship, literally, under the cover of darkness. More than two months later, under the bright lights of the national stage, Brown secured his first POY in dramatic fashion by advancing into the U.S. Middle-Amateur Championship’s match play draw. Brown totaled 646.6 points, 66.6 points ahead of Llanerch CC’s Jeff Osberg.

  “It’s great. I can’t say I was directly shooting for that, but it’s something I started to focus on later in the year and knew what I had to do at the U.S. Mid-Am. to win it,” said Brown, 37, of Cheltenham, Pa. “Although I came up short of my ultimate goal [at the U.S. Mid-Am.], it was nice to get to match play and get to the top of that points list. So I was definitely happy about that. It was satisfying to know exactly what I needed to do and do it.”

  Brown’s Player of the Year ascension was anything but conventional as championship campaigns go.

  He made an admirable defense of his Middle-Amateur Championship title at Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Militia Hill course in May, finishing in a tie for seventh. A few weeks later in late June, though, he failed to qualify for match play at the Amateur Championship when posting head-shaking rounds of 76 and 82. His 158 score was six shots south of the cut.

  “I think I have a slight mental block with the Amateur,” said Brown. “I’ve only gotten to match play once in the last three years. I think I have pretty high expectations for that event and it’s worked against me. To not have gotten any points in the Amateur, Patterson Cup or Silver Cross is tough. But there are a ton of points available in the Philly Open and I was lucky to be hot that day.”

  And so were the Open conditions. Battling daylong oppressive July heat, Brown stood two shots out of the lead after a morning-round ever-par 70 on Philmont Country Club’s difficult North Course. On his final 18 holes a short time later, Brown found himself stuck in neutral most of the round, standing at 3-over with four holes to play. However, just when it looked like a three-putt bogey on the 14th hole would prove lethal, Brown delivered birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 to jump to the top of the leaderboard with two holes remaining. He bogeyed the insanely difficult 17th to fall back into a tie for the top spot, but parred the final hole to finish regulation at 2-over par along with Greg Farrow, Deerwood CC’s head professional. Those two immediately returned to the course for a four-hole aggregate playoff, but when that was all said and done as well, still nothing was decided. They remained tied. Back to No. 1 the duo went, as sunshine turned to moonlight. Both players, who were touring the dog-leg right for the fourth time that day, found the fairway and then green. In almost complete darkness, Brown, relying on knowledge from a similar putt earlier in the day, cozied his 40-footer up to a foot. Farrow charged his 15 footer for the win and missed the comebacker. At 8:40 p.m. on July 21 Brown became just the seventh amateur to win an Open (it was the 13th time an amateur has won the tournament). It also provided Brown with a whopping 385 POY points.

  “The weather and conditions of the golf course set up well for me that day,” said Brown. “I knew just the physical side would take a portion of the field out of that competition. With nine holes to go I knew I was around the number. I came to the 17th tee with a one-shot lead. I felt like I was going to win at that time. Once I got into the playoff I felt calm the entire time. I felt in control of where the golf ball was going so I wasn’t surprised.”

  Brown added 75 points to his total by qualifying for the U.S. Amateur Championship at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., but did not advance into match play.

  The Patterson Cup was next at a site, RiverCrest GC & Preserve, Brown described as “not setting up well for me.” Two rounds later watched Brown finish tied for 22. Jeff Osberg of Llanerch CC, on the other hand, captured both the Patterson Cup and Silver Cross to move into the POY lead.

  Osberg failed to qualify for the U.S. Mid-Am. at White Manor CC a couple weeks later, however, while Brown waited a week before successfully advancing from the French Creek GC site. That left the following scenario. If Brown makes match play of the U.S. Mid-Am. Championship he earns 75 points and wins the William Hyndman, III Player of the Year. Don’t, and he finishes second by 8.4 points.

  “I missed the U.S. Mid-Am. by a shot and obviously Michael Brown qualified. At that point he was within the amount of points that all he needed to do was qualify for match play to pass me, which is no small task but I figured a player of his caliber had a great shot,” said Osberg. “All day when he was playing the qualifying rounds at the U.S. Mid-Am., people were calling me and giving me updates and sort of almost rooting against him, not maliciously but my friends wanted me to win. But honestly I wanted him to make it, not because I didn’t want the Player of the Year, which obviously is a tremendous accomplishment and great honor, but because not only do I not want to root against anyone but you like to see the local players do well on a national level. I wanted him or somebody else from Philadelphia to go win the whole thing.”

  “I played real solid [the first day]. I made a triple bogey late in the round but still got it in around par [1-over 73],” said Brown, who stood in the Top 25 after Round 1. “Mathematically, I knew if I kept it under 80 the second round I was going to get into match play and win the Player of the Year in Philly. [The second round] was a strange round of golf to play. I did my best to play one shot at a time. Knowing I had to shoot in the 70s made it tough to play.”

  Tough, yes, but very rewarding. Brown, the co-owner of a Philly Soft Pretzel Factory business in Cherry Hill, N.J., now stands at another level after taking home the Association’s top playing honor. He also goes from pursuer to pursuee with the win.

  “That’s probably the case,” said Brown when asked if he’ll now be a marked man. “I know there are a handful of guys I look at that way: Chris Lange, Glenn Smeraglio and Michael McDermott. There are a handful of guys who are going to be there every week and I want to be one of those guys. That’s what all those guys practice for, that opportunity. I want to be there, too.”

  Consider it done.

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