By Jeff Babineau
There’s a favorite Tom Hanks line from “A League of Their Own” that Olin Browne carries with him – and no, it’s not “There’s no crying in baseball.” When one of Hanks’ ballplayers complains about something being too hard, Hanks, the team’s manager, responds, “Of course it’s hard. That’s what makes it good.”
For Olin Browne, at least as far as golf is concerned, nothing ever has been easy. A guy who seemingly has lived on the top-125 bubble – or often outside it – the past couple of years, he has gone through barrels of ink and reams of paper writing – begging – for sponsor exemptions into tournaments. Browne, 46, won’t have to write for a while now. He sewed up a two-year PGA Tour exemption with his victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship Sept. 5.
Browne started the day sharing the lead at 10 under par with four others, pulled away from the field, then survived a final-hole scare by second-year Tour player Jason Bohn to collect his third Tour triumph, his first since the 1999 MasterCard Colonial. A singles hitter on a bomber’s golf course (TPC of Boston) that measures 7,415 yards, Browne didn’t enter as a favorite. He did, however, leave with the $990,000 winner’s check after a final-round, 4-under 67 pushed him to 14-under 270, one shot better than Bohn. Vaughn Taylor (68–274) finished third.
“This game teaches you a lot about being resilient,” Browne said. “Golf teaches you how to embrace the concept that you’re not going to get it right every time.”
Browne got it right most of the day Monday for the event’s Labor Day finish. With fairways and greens firming up and scores rising, he birdied four of his opening 10 holes when few others could get much going. The only one to really take off and run with him was Bohn, who in July captured his first Tour title at the B.C. Open. But as Bohn slipped with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 9 and 10, Browne kept forging ahead. The difference turned out to be a birdie at the 17th, set up by a
7-iron by Browne to 16 feet.
Bohn had one last chance to tie at the 543-yard 18th, and went for the green in two with a hybrid club from along the left treeline, his ball skipping out of a right-side bunker and into a swale of rough. When his pitch for eagle rolled left of the flagstick to 7 feet, victory belonged to Browne.
“It’s the first time I’ve been in this position, playing in the last group, and I played with a lot of heart,” said Bohn, who made his birdie putt to close with 68. “I’m proud of myself.”
In February 2004, Browne was so frustrated with his game he was ready to throw away the clubs. A first-round 78 at the Nissan Open was the final straw. Some fellow players put him in touch with instructor Jim Hardy, who helped Browne develop a rounder, more dependable swing. Though he ranks 177th on Tour in driving distance, Browne now is 15th in greens in regulation.
“Everything was spiraling in the wrong direction on him,” said Randy Grills, a Massachusetts-based instructor and longtime friend of Browne’s who housed him all week. “When he went to Jim Hardy, it gave him something to focus on. I’ve known Olin for 20 years, when he was playing mini-tours and not very good. But he’s never been a spectator; he never went on a course and looked at the other guys and said, ‘Wow.’ He’s always said, ‘I’m going to beat that guy.’ It just goes to show, if you work hard, it doesn’t matter how old you are.”
Five players shared the 54-hole lead, and most in the stands couldn’t tell the leaders without a program. Not since the 1983 Colonial had so many shared the lead heading into a final round of a PGA Tour event. Billy Andrade, who made the 45-minute commute all week from his home in Bristol, R.I., was the marquee name and local favorite among a pack that included Browne, Bohn, John Rollins and Carl Pettersson, who was seeking his first PGA Tour victory.
Andrade played his first 57 holes of the tournament without a bogey. “Guys that don’t make a lot of bogeys are usually going to hang around,” he said. Andrade then went 4 over in a four-hole stretch midway through the front nine Monday and exited the chase. It was an unfortunate ending to what had been such a positive week.
“All you can do is give yourself opportunities,” said Andrade, who shot 75 and tied for 15th. “Today wasn’t my day. It was Olin’s day.”
When Tiger Woods went out early in the first round and tacked a tidy little bogey-free 65 on the board, it appeared to be a message sent, not to mention an early week for the trophy engraver. But the next three days were amazingly pedestrian for Woods, who could muster nothing better than a closing 71. He began the final day seven shots back and donned his Monday red, but any thoughts of a Faxonian comeback were dashed early when he dumped a sand wedge into the front bunker at No. 1 and half-heartedly finished the hole like a polo player whose horse was triple-parked.
Woods was asked if there was any point in his last couple of rounds when he felt he might get things turned around.
“No,” he said candidly. “Not once.”
Browne knows the feeling. Woods knows what it’s like to hoist a champion’s trophy, and when Browne collected his on Monday, long after Woods had taken to the skies, it appeared it was something he could get used to.
It hadn’t been easy, of course, but for Browne, that made victory all the more enjoyable.