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Late Taxis and Perfect Putts

The Magnificent Story of Ken Brown's First Tour Win

Posted Jul 27, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

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In these days of courtesy cars on tap and often on-site accommodation for tournament competitors, the notion of having to scramble to get to the first tee on time, seems rather far-fetched.  But it wasn't all that rare 30 years ago, even in top-level events like the Irish Open, which is being staged this week at Killarney under the 3Mobile banner.

This was certainly the experience of Ken Brown, who is now a highly regarded golf commentator with BBC Television.  And his reflections on a successful tournament career include rather special memories of the Irish Open.  The fact is that Brown's first European Tour appearance was in the Irish Open at Woodbrook in 1975 and his swansong was in the same event at Mount Juliet in 1993.  In between, he had his first win on tour in the Irish Open at Portmarnock in 1978.

Against this background, it's hardly surprising that the tournament remains very dear to his heart.  And naturally, '78 stands out above the others.  At that time, he stayed at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, an establishment he remembers as nice and old-fashioned, with wonderful food on a fixed menu which contained the full works. "I always enjoyed it there," he said.

Clearly relishing the memory, he went on: "Then there was the golf course. In my view Portmarnock was and remains among the top two or three links courses in the world. And my special memories of '78 were first of all the size and enthusiasm of the crowds. Where the players were concerned, it was second only to the British Open on the European Tour, because of the quality of the course and the strength of the field.

"As it happened, I was up with the leaders almost from the start and when it came to the last day, I was in the last two-ball with local favourite, John O'Leary.  I don't think there were any courtesy cars that year. Anyway I organised a taxi to pick me up at the hotel about an hour and 20 minutes before my tee-time."   This is where his challenge became especially interesting.

Brown recalled: "To my horror, it didn't turn up.  There I was, in contention for my first win and feeling a bit nervous. And with the minutes ticking away, I was gripped by the awful fear that I might not get there on time.

"Fear was turning to despair when, 30 minutes before I was due to tee-off, the taxi finally arrived. We got to the course about 10 or 15 minutes later - hardly ideal preparation. I can vividly recall thinking that I mustn’t rush about; I mustn’t allow myself to become upset; I must somehow try to be calm.

"I hit a couple of drivers but in the short time I had, my main focus was on the wedge and putter, just enough to warm up. My short game was very good that week and I was determined that it would remain that way."

So it was that he and O'Leary set off at the appointed time. When they got to the 10th tee, close by the clubhouse, a huge cheer went up from the 18th nearby. Seve Ballesteros had shot 65 to finish on six under. Brown and O'Leary were seven under at the time and though it wasn't a particularly tough day, they were acutely aware that much could happen on the back nine at Portmarnock.

Typically, Brown scrambled superbly, getting up and down from a bunker for a birdie at the long 16th.  Into the breeze, however, the 17th was virtually out of range for him.  While O'Leary made the green in two, his approach ended on a mound, about 60 yards short of the pin, back left.  From there, he pitched to about six feet and holed a treacherous effort for his par.

After that, the pair of them stood on the 18th tee still level on seven under.  That was where O'Leary drove into one of the two right-hand bunkers from where he had little chance of reaching the green.  Brown pulled his drive into left rough putting the green most definitely out of range. As things turned out, he went on to pitch to 12 feet in three and with O'Leary failing to get up and down for a par, he had this effort for the title. And holed it.

"I later heard that Seve didn't believe this young fellow would make the putt," Brown recalled. "But I did.  And I had my tournament breakthrough on a great golf course."  He concluded: "There couldn't have been a harder competition for me to win.  And even if my choice of taxis wasn't always reliable, I had proved to myself that I could play."

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