2005: U.S. Open - Browne’s unlikely story has unsatisfying finish

Pinehurst, N.C.

Evening was nearing after the third round of the 105th U.S. Open, and Olin Browne was asked if he was getting proper rest and staying off his feet enough to have the needed energy to play the grueling final round ahead.

“I’m fine,” said Browne, 46. “There’s too much excitement. I’m digging this.”

It was a fitting thought for an anthropology major from little-known Occidental College in California who is a late bloomer both in golf – he took up the game at age 19 – and on the PGA Tour. One day the two-time Tour winner will tell his grandchildren he shared the 18- and 36-hole lead at the Open with rounds of 67-71. But that did little to dull the disappointment he was feeling after a closing 80 sent him careening from contention to a tie for 23rd.

As Browne had noted a day earlier, “Hey, I’m 46 years old. How many more chances am I going to get?”

He fell hard on Sunday, when, despite mixing in some early quality shots, he made bogey on five of his first six holes. On the par-3 sixth hole, the 5-iron he struck hit about a foot away from where the ball of fellow competitor Michael Campbell had pitched. Browne’s ball rolled off the green and he made bogey; Campbell proceeded to two-putt for par.

“What’s the difference there? I don’t know,” he said. “He’s holding the trophy right now. I wish I knew the answer.”

Browne nearly didn’t get to the Open. In order to conserve energy for a hot week ahead at the Booz Allen Classic, he considered making an early exit at his sectional qualifier at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md. He went so far as to ask the proper procedure to withdraw after an opening 73 left him well back. But he played his next nine, shot 30, and before he knew it he was signing for a 59 that earned him an Open appearance.

Once there, he was an instant hit at Pinehurst, on and off the course. A straight and steady player, Browne took a liking to No. 2’s demanding conditions (“I want it as hard as it can be,” he said) and seemed to relish the national media spotlight his solid play delivered. Making his days in the sun all the more enjoyable was having his family there, including his dad, Luis, and his son, “Little O,” Olin Jr., a 16-year-old high school senior who plays to a 1 handicap.

“He’s got so much heart,” said Olin Jr. “To start at 19 years old and do what he has done, I think he’s a great example to everybody who plays golf. Never give up.”

So on Sunday, Olin Browne battled to the very end, trying “on every stinking shot.” He said he wanted to enjoy his Sunday at the Open, being in the second to last group with a shot at victory. Despite his final score, it looked like he did.

“I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “My game is coming back. I’m ready to play tomorrow."

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