For Olin Browne, the U.S. Senior Open was the penultimate stop of a long, long road trip. Naturally, Browne did not arrive fully expecting to win his first major championship and Champions Tour title.
“To play on my 11th week on the road, you would think it would be time for a collapse, but I managed to keep my composure and stay the course,” Browne said of his win at Inverness in a Tuesday telephone interview.
Success began for Browne on Tuesday of Senior Open week, when he got a tip from fellow player Michael Allen about his posture. He was still trying to figure it out before tournament week began Thursday, but it clicked in time to help Browne mostly with his putting.
“I was bent at the waist with my putter and I got over my line really well. My arms worked really well with my stroke,” Browne said. The result was a single three-putt for the week.
“Overall for the week, on a course like that with greens like that, if you can get through a week with one three-putt, that’s pretty great.”
The lone blemish came on the eighth hole of Sunday’s final round. Browne said it was a push – nay, a shove – of an effort, but that dropped shot to the field did not distract him from his goal.
“I knew even though Mark (O’Meara) and Calc (Mark Calcavecchia) were making runs and Peter Senior got to 11 under at one point, I knew they were all going to have to face that difficult stretch of holes on the back nine. And the tournament was going to come to how we played that stretch of holes,” he said.
Eight pars and a birdie later – better than his competition – Browne had won the first major of his career. The D.C. native, though, did not feel certain the title was his until the 71st hole.
“There was no indication I was going to win that tournament until I made that second putt on 17. Then I knew I just had to get it in the fairway on 18.”
The lone birdie on the back nine came on the last hole, a 35-footer to secure the title and end his two-day battle with O’Meara. The two played together on the weekend, which was especially helpful for Browne in the third round.
“We both played really well on Saturday. It was fun coming down the back nine. He shot 3 under, I shot 5 under. We just fed off one another on the back nine,” he said.
In the final round, Browne expected O’Meara to strike early – and he did. Two birdies in the first four holes nodded a contest that quickly became a match-play situation. Despite losing the advantage early in the day, Browne stuck to his focus on getting to the back nine with a chance to win by keeping the ball in play.
“I struggled off the tee with my driver. I missed by a little, not by much, but my game plan was to play as solidly as I could from tee-to-green. In doing that, I knew I would give myself enough birdie opportunities to make a few of them. But it didn’t pan out that way [early] because I couldn’t hit the fairway,” he said.
In the final tally, the plan obviously paid off for Browne though he fell a shot shy of his goal on the first tee.
“I knew that if I shot an under-par round on Sunday, it would be pretty hard to catch me,” he said. “Now it didn’t work out that way because the golf course changed and it became very difficult.”
There may have been some nerves from sleeping on the lead, but Browne has been in form for much of the season. He says it was a help to be in the mix through the year.
“I had a goal this year. I wanted to be more relevant in more tournaments. I opened the year with a bunch of top-10s. That was a good way to start the year. Last year, I only had three top-10s,” he said. “The more you’re in contention, the more comfortable you get with it, more chances you get to hoist the trophy.”
The win is a dream fulfilled for Browne and his wife, Pam, who spent years on the range together practicing for the moment he faced on Sunday. A drive, an approach shot, a putt for the U.S. Open.
“It’s kind of overwhelming really. It was great she was there. And it was specifically the U.S. Open we dreamed about – I’m sure you’ve heard the story about the driving range.
“This is the kind of thing that has more legs than I imagined. I probably won’t know what it means to me for a good while.”
It may take a while to sink in for Browne because he won’t have time to let it. The season rolls on, especially with a look at one more major in two weeks.
“We have a whole week off next week, then another major after that at Westchester for the Senior Players,” Browne said. “And that’s a course that’s reasonably similar to [Inverness], so I’ve got to maintain my energy and keep my enthusiasm up. We’ve got some good tournaments coming up, with eight more to go. So I’m not ready to totally decompress, hide out in the Keys just yet.”
Browne knows he has to strike while he’s young, relative to his peers. The Champions Tour is not a 30-year jaunt.
“I made a more of a mental and emotional commitment to playing better this year,” he said.
“It’s a very obvious, finite window out here – 5 to 10 years long. I don’t want to look back when I’m 65 and wonder what could have been.”